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All aboard! New reading 'railroad' to bring books to Elba tykes

By Billie Owens

A unique, free book program -- offered by the Dolly Parton Imagination Library -- is going to be offered to children living in the Elba School District and registration begins Monday, July 12.

It's for infants to age 5 and has been offered in the Oakfield-Alabama School District for about six years.

Imagination Library's goal is to provide every preschooler enrolled with his or her own book collection. The books are carefully selected and mailed once a month to the child until age 5.

Locally, the program was dubbed the "R.E.D. Express" by the Basom-based Richter Family Foundation, which has given away approximately 13,000 books to the program so far. The mascot of the R.E.D. Express is a choo-choo train. R.E.D. stands for "Read Every Day."

In fact, the Richters formed their nonprofit foundation (a 501c3) in 2004 specifically to offer this program in Genesee County. Now, they are eager to spread this learning opportunity to more children, this time in Elba.

"Our hopes are to get to the whole county eventually," Tim Richter said this afternoon.

Dolly's Imagination Library program operates in 46 states, Canada and the United Kingdom. This year, the 25-millionth book will be mailed to some fortunate tot.

The country superstar started this program in her birthplace, Sevier County, Tenn. She never forgot her dirt-poor beginnings. Growing up, she says she could only dream of owning her very own books.

Today, she wants children everywhere to feel the excitement of getting a new book delivered every month -- to keep! So she decided to replicate the program in any community willing to support it financially.

The Imagination Library partners with nonprofits to promote literacy.

It starts the program in a community where a bona fide nonprofit foundation is capable of receiving donations on its behalf. Businesses and other donors help financially support the program via the nonprofit, which supplies informational brochures, handles administrative duties and serves as the liaison with Dolly's foundation.

Parents and guardians, of course, must register their little ones and help them learn to read.

In Oakfield-Alabama, the Richter Family Foundation has funded the entire program without sponsors, but that will not be feasible as the program grows. Thus, Elba businesses and residents are encouraged to participate.

"Get in on the excitement and opportunity to help the children of your community," says Linda Richter in an announcement about the R.E.D. Express.

All children who are 5 and under are welcome to participate and parents are encouraged to pick up a registration brochure at the following locations: The Elba School District Office, M & T Bank, Elba Village offices, Elba Town offices and the Yellow Goose Market.

Simply mailing the registration form to the address on the brochure will enroll your child.  

To become the next reading depot and begin this program in your area, please call The Richter Family Foundation at 585-948-9675.

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