Rotarians bring Imagination Library to Carroll County

Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Holiday Island Rotarians Brian Byerley, left, and Peggy Lodewyks show off some of the books children receive for free through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Photo by Samantha Jones/Carroll County News

The Holiday Island Rotary Club is cultivating a love of reading in the children of western Carroll County.

Rotarians Peggy Lodewyks and Brian Byerley have been working together to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to children under 5 in Holiday Island and Eureka Springs, and that’s just the start. Lodewyks said she hopes to expand the program to Berryville and Green Forest eventually, describing how the program began.

“Dolly Parton realized that people in her county couldn’t read, so she started giving out free books,” Lodewyks said. “Since then, she has a national group of educators and parents that choose the books by the age of the children.”

Parents can enroll their children in the program for free, Lodewyks said, and will begin receiving books the following month. The books are chosen based on a child’s age and development, Lodewyks said, starting with a focus on minimal text and ending with rhymes, poetry and folk tales. The books are all hardback, Lodewyks said.

“By the time they’re 4, they’re getting fiction and nonfiction,” Lodewyks said. “The idea is we want the parents or guardians to sit down and read to them. They’re all brand-new books, and they’re chosen by people who know what the kids want and like. They’re getting a book tailored to their growth.”

Learning to read early, Lodewyks said, will help Carroll County children grow to enrich their hometown. She said 10 percent of Carroll County residents don’t have a high school education, likely because they didn’t learn to love reading when they were young.

“You have to read to be able to do anything in life,” Lodewyks said. “Our purpose is to educate, help the kids learn better, get a bigger labor force and reduce poverty in Carroll County.”

Byerley brought the program to Holiday Island Rotary Club, he said, after he saw how well his children responded to it when they were young.

“My oldest son loved getting the book in the mail. We’d read to him,” Byerley said. “Once my younger ones started growing up, he’d read to them. I’d like to think they got their smarts from me, but I know this has a big impact on their lives, because they love to read. They do well at school, and I have to attribute a lot of it to the Imagination Library.”

When he and his family moved to Carroll County, Byerley said, his wife saw a need for the program. That was when he brought it to Rotary. Lodewyks said she and Byerley had to create a 501c3 to get it started, using a Carroll County Community Foundation grant and donations from Holiday Island Rotarians and private donors to get the books to children in Holiday Island and Eureka Springs. There are 69 children under 5 in Holiday Island, Lodewyks said, and 169 children under 5 in Eureka Springs.

“We’re working with the Eureka Springs Rotary and we’re talking with the Berryville Rotary so we can get the program there,” Lodewyks said. “It’s $25 a year that the Rotary or private donors pay and then the child gets a book from the time they register until they’re 5 years old.”

She hopes all three Rotary clubs can work together, Lodewyks said, to bring the program to every child in Carroll County.

“From birth to 5 years old, they can have their own personal library of 60 hardbound books,” Lodewyks said.

Parents interested in signing their children up for the program can visit or Those who would like to sponsor a child can call Jane Rost at 760-535-3476.

“As soon as we get the orders, we order the book so the next month, they’ll already get their book,” Lodewyks. “We want them to get their book right away. This is free to the public. They are never going to be charged. This is a free gift, so why not take advantage and have your child or grandchild or a child you know enroll?”

Byerley agreed.

“Our main goal is to get the books in the hands of the kids,” he said. “If there’s people out there that want to help with donations, let us know.”

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