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Reading Program Expands in McKeesport Area

Libraries partnering with Dolly Parton program to provide free kids’ books

By Paul Wintruba
The Tube City Almanac
February 28, 2022
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton created the “Dolly Parton Imagination Library” in 1995 to serve children near her home in eastern Tennessee. The program has recently expanded into the McKeesport, Glassport and Duquesne areas. (Submitted photo)

“There is really nothing much better you can do to support your children, getting them ready for school than reading them a book,” Mary Denison says.

Denison is the founder and executive director of Reading Ready Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization that began in Homestead. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the group partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a charitable program created by the singer-songwriter that sends a free book monthly to parents of children younger than five years of age.

Created in 1995 to serve children near Parton’s home in Tennessee, the imagination library now operates across the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia. In February, the program expanded into McKeesport, Glassport and several other Mon-Yough ZIP codes.

“McKeesport is prime real estate for this program,” says Vincent D’Alesio, director of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport. “I have no doubt it will prove useful to our patrons.”

While McKeesport has a public library with an active children’s department, all children’s reading programs are limited by one main issue — kids have to be taken to the library by a parent or other adult.

Through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, parents can know their child will receive books delivered to their home. In this way books become a source of bonding, rather than an errand, Denison says.

“Children know if they bring that book to a parent, they can share an interaction,” she says. The expansion of the program into the McKeesport area was announced just one week ago, and already more than 100 children have signed up for the program.

Denison only hopes for that number to grow. The program in McKeesport is being funded through the Reading Ready Pittsburgh organization.

“To put books in the hands of children at a very young age, as an educator, is amazing to see,” says Tamara Ekins, a teacher in the McKeesport Area School District. “We know as educators that it is best for kids to be read to from a very young age.”

With this program’s recent expansion to the McKeesport area, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library free book program is now available to residents of the Mon Valley communities of Homestead, West Homestead, Whitaker, Munhall, Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin, East Pittsburgh, Chalfant, Turtle Creek, Duquesne, West Mifflin, White Oak, Wilkinsburg and Swissvale.

To sign up for the free book program, parents or guardians may go to www.readingreadypittsburgh.org/dpil.

The program is also available for city of Pittsburgh residents.

Reading Ready Pittsburgh also offers a program for children up to 5 years old they call “Ready for K,” Denison says.

This local program sends three learning tips to parents weekly to help them better prepare their child for school. These tips include brain development information, educational activities, and suggestions for parents. Parents can sign up for the service by texting “RRP” to 70138, and cancel any time by responding STOP to that same number.

Originally published February 28, 2022.

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