A literacy program for children in the Burk’s Falls, Armour and Ryerson area is now underway.
The Family Literacy Committee of Almaguin launched the free book-giving campaign that committee chair Tammy Ward says is aimed at children up to five years old.
Ward says the goal is to introduce literacy to children at a very young age so they have “a really good foundation for literacy when they enter school.”
“They will have had experiences with good literature, book sharing, cuddling during reading time and bonding,” Ward said.
“And hopefully the reading carries on as they get older.”
Ward says there’s always a need for literacy everywhere but the need is greater in Almaguin because the large geographical area is covered by only a handful of services.
Ward says in addition, some families experience below average incomes meaning they aren’t easily able to afford children’s books.
“Book are not necessarily a priority when you first need to provide shelter and food and other basic necessities,” Ward said.
Ward acknowledges parents can always take out books for their children from local libraries and there is nothing wrong with that.
“But what we’re trying to do is create a library within a home,” she said.
“This way the children have access to their library whenever they like.”
Ward says the committee would like to see children have a library of 60 books by the time they are five years old.
They would accomplish that by being enrolled in the program from the time they are born and then receive one free book a month for five years.
The committee is affiliated with the Dollywood Foundation which chooses the books the children have read to them.
Singer, songwriter and actress Dolly Parton created the foundation in 1988 and that led to the formation of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library which provided free, high-quality books to children up to the age of five.
Ward says Parton’s dad didn't read and she often felt that held him back in life.
“So she started the library because she wanted all children to have access to reading,” Ward said.
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library serves children in Canada, the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“The Dollywood Foundation in Canada buys the books which are selected by an expert panel and are all quality books,” Ward said.
Ward says the foundation covers the administration and postage costs to get the books to the families. She adds because the foundation buys books in such large volumes “each book works out to about $3.55.”
The foundation then bills the local affiliates for the books.
So far, the Dollywood Foundation in Canada has distributed 2.2 million books to 35,000 children.
To date the Family Literacy Committee of Almaguin has raised $4,500 to kickstart the program locally.
But Ward cautions the committee needs to be careful how the program is rolled out in the early stages otherwise it could run out of money to pay the foundation for the books in no time.
The committee has done the math to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Ward says a book-a-month will cost about $50 a year per child and with the committee having raised $4,500 so far. That’s enough to accept 35 registrations and provide free books to those families for three years.
She adds during those ensuing three years, the committee will have engaged in more fundraising activities to bring in more money.
Part of that fundraising includes a sponsorship element where businesses, organizations and individuals can donate.
The donation portion has four support levels with platinum being the highest where people can donate $1,500 or more.
Ward says Black Creek Homes, one of the founding sponsors, is a member of that platinum group.
Gold, silver and bronze make up the remaining support levels with donations starting at $50.
Ward says people can make donations to the local affiliate through e-transfers to the Township of Armour at email@example.com and indicate the money is intended for the Almaguin group.
The municipality will issue tax receipts.
Ward also personally helps with the fundraising efforts.
Through her business, Butter Tarts and Belgium, she bakes a variety of cookies which she then sells at public events.
Earlier this month at Heritage Day in Burk’s Falls, Ward raised $560 after expenses for the literacy committee. She will be selling baked goods at the Sundridge Sunflower Festival on Aug. 6.
Ward says the long-term plan is to expand the book-giving program across Almaguin.
In the fall she will begin visiting the town councils and organizations across Almaguin explaining the program and the need to keep donations coming in so children can receive free books well into the future.
Ward says the latest census shows there are about 500 children in all of Almaguin.
Ward says the book-giving program is universal meaning anyone, regardless of income, can register their children.
At the local level, only hard copy registrations are being provided at this time and they are available at the Township of Armour municipal office, the Burk’s Falls Armour and Ryerson Union Public Library and Katrine General Store.
Parents can either mail the completed registrations to the Armour town hall or drop the forms off where they were first picked up and Ward will collect them.
Ward says because of the limited funds and to ensure the program's sustainability, registration is capped at 35 for now and it’s first come, first serve.
However in the future as more money is raised and more children can be enrolled into the program, online registration is expected to become available.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget