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Eddy County children between the ages of birth and 5 may receive high-quality, age-appropriate children’s books free of charge through a new program called The Imagination Library of Eddy County.

“The Imagination Library is essentially a book-of-the-month club for preschoolers,” says local coordinator and State Rep. Cathrynn Brown. “A beautiful, pre-selected book is mailed to children once a month. A large monetary donation from Nuclear Waste Partnership made it possible to launch the program here in Eddy County this fall.”

Brown says having high-quality children’s books in the home encourages youngsters to interact with family members around wholesome stories, fosters a love of reading, and prepares children for kindergarten.

“Studies show that children who participate in the Imagination Library tend to perform 20 to 25 points higher than their peers who are not in the program on certain standardized tests in first and second grade, and even when they are older,” says Brown. “Promoting the Imagination Library in Eddy County is something we can do to improve education outcomes for literally thousands of children.”

The Imagination Library of Eddy County is affiliated with The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, headquartered in Tennessee. Parton started the program in her home county more than 20 years ago, and it has been replicated in cities and counties across the nation.

“Dolly relies on local leaders to plant the program in their locale,” says Brown, “and her foundation and the local affiliates work closely to administer operations.”

The Eddy County affiliate is managed by a Carlsbad steering committee, whose members include Brown, Mario Salinas, Doree Donovan, Lacee De La Rosa, Lorie Mitchell and Stella Davis. Brown notes librarians in Carlsbad, Artesia and Loving have been helping to promote the program, as have pediatricians’ offices, dental offices, preschools, and daycares.

The Imagination Library of Eddy County aims to enroll 468 preschool children in its first year of operation. Parents’ enthusiasm for the program has been far greater than anticipated, according to Brown, as 422 children have been registered in only four months.

“If the current pace continues — and I believe it will— the program will be reaching 1000 preschoolers by June of 2018,” says Brown.

The ultimate goal is to involve 2,240 preschool children within Eddy County by the fifth year of operation, a goal suggested by the Dollywood Foundation that Brown also hopes to surpass.

Support for the Imagination Library is made possible through the financial contributions of private citizens, businesses, civic groups, and charitable organizations.

“The seed money from the Nuclear Waste Partnership was key,” says Brown, “and we have since received generous donations from Artesia General Hospital, Gannett Media (the parent company of the Carlsbad Current-Argus) and the Gannett Foundation, and several private donors.”

The United Way of Carlsbad and South Eddy County also has provided assistance, recently transferring funds that were earmarked several years ago for an Imagination-Library-style program benefitting South Eddy County.

“We depend on ongoing financial support to sustain and grow the program,” says Brown, “but there is never a charge to the children or their families.”

She points out donations to the Imagination Library of Eddy County are tax-deductible, as the program operates under the nonprofit fiscal umbrella of New Mexico’s first affiliate, the Imagination Library of Grant County.

Parents may register their children — ages birth to 5 — online at imaginationlibrary.com.

Brown encourages online registration as the fastest way to enroll in the program. Parents may also use a mail-in registration card that can be downloaded from the Imagination Library website or found in counter displays at more than 40 locations in Eddy County. There are only two qualifiers for joining the program: A child must be under the age of 5 and must reside in Eddy County.

For more information on the Imagination Library, contact Brown at 575-706-4420.