Aroostook County –  Representatives of The County’s four hospitals who care for the region’s youngest patients came together today to announce a new partnership with the United Way of Aroostook that will help put a new book in the hands of families with infants and toddlers each and every month.

TAMC

Officials with TAMC, Cary Medical Center, Houlton Regional Hospital and Northern Maine Medical Center joined with leaders of the United Way of Aroostook and the Aroostook County Action Program’s (ACAP) Family Services in a Head Start Program classroom at the ACAP Family Center in Presque Isle to announce their support for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  The nation-wide initiative, which United Way of Aroostook launched locally in October 2013, puts a new book in the hands of families who sign up with children from birth to age five at no cost to them every month.

“We are thrilled with the support that all four County hospitals have given to this project.  They all recognize the importance of the program and have been so willing to help us expand it to reach more young families,” said Claudia Stevens, executive director of the United Way of Aroostook.  “We look forward to working with them to make this an ongoing success for The County’s youngest citizens.”

Currently, United Way of Aroostook has just over 1,300 pre-school-age children County-wide enrolled in the initiative who are receiving books in the mail monthly.  With the partnership of the four County hospitals, they hope to expand that to reach as many of the nearly 3,500 kids under the age of five in the coming years.

“By partnering with us in this way, the four County hospitals are helping make sustainable change in the lives of local children.  The Dolly’s Imagination Library project will help kids develop a lifelong love of reading,” said Daniel Bagley, United Way of Aroostook Board president.  “Where there is a need to help local people, the businesses, organizations and citizens of Aroostook always step in and help.  This partnership between the hospitals and the local United Way is a wonderful example of people helping people and the ability to address a local issue with local help.”

As part of the partnership with United Way of Aroostook, nursing staff at Cary Medical Center, Houlton Regional Hospital, Northern Maine Medical Center and TAMC  will provide the opportunity for parents of newborns at each of their facilities to sign up for the free book delivery program before they depart the hospital after delivering their child.  Additionally, each hospital has agreed to sponsor the program, through the United Way, for the babies born at their hospital.  The contributions will help underwrite part of the cost of the program.

“We are so pleased to be able to partner with United Way of Aroostook and our friends and counterparts throughout The County on this most worthwhile project,” said Pam Lilley, RN, manager of TAMC Women and Children’s Unit.  “We have the great privilege and pleasure of helping young families bring new life into the world, and to be among the first to welcome The County’s newest citizens.  This is an amazing program that allows us to extend our care beyond those first few precious hours to help instill a life-long love for reading that will serve our newborns well throughout their life.”

According to United Way of Aroostook officials, the average cost of each book and the associated mailing expense to get it to each child monthly averages $2.08.  It’s an investment that all partner hospitals feel is well spent.

“The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library project is a wonderful way for us at Pines Health Services and Cary Medical Center to collaborate with the United Way of Aroostook and other County Healthcare organizations to benefit our youth and local families,” said Jen Plante, RNC-OB, maternal/child primary charge nurse at Cary Medical Center.  “Reading to your pre-school age children is such a special way to have family time together and to start your children on their way to a lifetime of reading enjoyment and healthy reading habits.”

Since its initial program launch in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has gone from just a few dozen books to over 60 million books mailed to children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.  The United Way of Aroostook is among the more than 1,600 local community organizations that provide the Imagination Library to over a quarter million children each and every month.  County hospitals hope their partnership will help the program grow from one end of the County to the other.

“We are so happy to introduce our families to this program and to show them how easy it is to participate,” said Angela Hartman, obstetrics nurse at Northern Maine Medical Center. “We know that children exposed to reading very early in life are more likely to do well in school. Books have the power to benefit children in so many ways and it is such a great way for parents to spend quality time snuggling with their child while experiencing endless adventures together by reading.”

“Houlton Regional Hospital is invested in promoting literacy in all children and encourages families to read together.  We are happy to join in this effort to provide an important resource to southern Aroostook families raising young children,” said Cheryl Peabody, RN, nurse manager of labor and delivery recovery and postpartum/newborn nursery.

The setting for the joint announcement by the four hospitals and the United Way of Aroostook at the ACAP Family Center in Presque Isle was chosen to both involve children and to underscore the importance of reading to young ones at an early age.  Representatives from each of the four hospitals took a moment after the announcement to read their favorite children’s book to students in Early Head Start and Head Start classrooms.

ACAP Family Services is a United Way funded agency.  Officials with the group were on hand for the event to lend their support and encouragement.

“We know from extensive research that early language and literacy begins in the first three years of life. Children’s experiences with books, paper, crayons and adult language interactions are critical to future language, reading and writing development and success in school. Exposure to books encourages imagination and helps children make connections between words, pictures and actions. Rhyming, repetitive reading, learning how a book works are all skills that learned in infancy will benefit a child’s future development in math, science and social studies,” said Sue Powers, ACAP program manager. “ACAP is proud to participate in Dolly’s Imagination Library, a program that puts books in the hands of young children.”

Well-known country music entertainer Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library initiative in 1995 in her home county in east Tennessee.  Her vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing the gift of a specially selected book each month.

By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about reading and to feel the magic that books can create.  Most importantly, she wanted to ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.

The United Way of Aroostook adopted the project as part of their community impact initiative, one section of which calls for a targeted, proactive use of funds and resources to bring about lasting changes in the community through the promotion and support of early childhood literacy and school preparation.  Officials with the County-wide non-profit organization hope to help level the playing field to afford all children in the region the opportunity to be successful early learners and readers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Maine children under six years old lives in poverty.  Officials with the United Way of Aroostook, who are actively fundraising to grow the program, say donations totaling $2,000 will purchase books for approximately 80 children for a calendar year.

The boost from the four hospitals to promote the program, help sign-up young families with newborns, and underwrite part of the cost for each child born at their respective facilities is tremendous according to Stevens.  The United Way executive is hoping that by stepping forward in this leadership role, the healthcare organizations will serve as a catalyst for other organizations, businesses and individuals to support the worthwhile project.