Dolly Parton Imagination Library now a reality here

The internationally acclaimed Dolly Parton Imagination Library became a reality in Jefferson County on Wednesday when the reading program signed on its first two participants — 4-month-old Samuel “Sam” Sherrill of Redfield and 2-year-old Kaylei Willingham of Pine Bluff.

The program — initiated by Tennessee-born singer and actress Dolly Parton — aims at eliminating illiteracy and and empowering individual and collective futures by having new books delivered to participating children from birth to age 5 at their homes without cost to them or their parents. A monthly fee of just $2.08 per child is paid by a sponsoring non-profit agency.

Youth Partners — one of the United Way of Southeast Arkansas’ 26 supported agencies — is underwriting the project with financial backing from community businesses and organizations. Local United Way Director Jim Caldwell is credited with starting a campaign to bring the program to Jefferson County.

“Our goal is to register every eligible child in the county,” Caldwell said. He noted that parents must take part in the effort to enter their children into the program.

To register a child here, telephone Youth Partners at 870-534-8251, e-mail the agency at, or visit its office in the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center on West Second Avenue in Pine Bluff. Youth Partners Executive Director Linda Bateman will be overseeing the effort and volunteer Maxine Lane will serve as registrar.

During Wednesday’s registration event at the Reynolds Center, the initial signees’ parents expressed delight in having their children enrolled.

Brian and Jeanna Sherrill said they’re trusting that the program will help young Sam to perhaps learn to read at an early age and develop an appreciation for literacy. Brian Sherrill is the father of two older children, ages 18 and 16, and said, “They know the correlation of reading and academic success. We want to make sure Sam is a reader.”

Kaylei’s mother, Camille Bifford, said she’s eager to see her daughter discover the “importance” of reading at an early age.

“I’m a college student and an avid reader,” Bifford said. “I want Kaylei to follow in that path.”

Caldwell said Lane, a retiree, telephoned him and offered her assistance in the program soon after it was first publicized by The Commercial in March.

“I’m looking forward to this, to working with the children and their parents,” said Lane, a long-time Pine Bluff volunteer. “I knew I wanted to help because this program involves reading and children learning how to read. I’ve had so much pleasure reading, and now I’ll have the opportunity to help others experience that same pleasure.”