A newly-launched initiative is aiming to improve childhood literacy across Indiana. Indianapolis-based nonprofit Hoosiers Read says it is partnering with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide free books to children, starting with two pilot areas in Indy.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, founder Ben Battaglia said if a child grows up without literacy skills, they end up spending time at school learning to read.
“But if you can build literacy skills early, that means you can spend grade school and beyond reading to learn,” said Battaglia. “And so, early literacy is really correlated with kindergarten readiness, third grade literacy, and even books at home can be correlated to high school graduation rates.”
Battaglia, who also serves as chief of staff at Indianapolis-based Lessonly and is a 2019-2020 fellow from the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation, says partnering with the Imagination Library was the perfect first step for the organization.
The Imagination Library was founded in 1995 and provides one free, age-appropriate book to children from birth to age five with no restrictions on a family’s income. The Hoosiers Read program will begin with two pilot zip codes in Indy: 46201 and 46203.
“There are pockets of this Dolly Parton Imagination Library program throughout Indiana already, representing about 19% of the population. So far, none of that is available in Marion County,” said Battaglia. “The Shepherd Community Center is partnering with us to fund [the Indy program] for the next five years and so, we’re looking for more partners around Indianapolis to help us grow to additional zip codes who may be a local organization or a library or someone who wants to say, ‘We’ll take this zip code and fund it here.'”
Battaglia says he hopes to cover all of Marion County over the next 12 to 24 months. Long-term, Hoosiers Read hopes to bring the program to all 92 Indiana counties. He says one way to help reach that goal is to get the Indiana legislature involved.
“There are, I think, five to 10 states in the United States whose legislatures have said this is a program that’s important and they’re going to help fund it,” he said. “So, we’re also trying to work with legislators to say, ‘Could this be something for a future Indiana budget that they’d be willing to chip in a help us make sure that we can roll this out to all 92 counties?'”
Battaglia says Hoosier Reads plans to announce more zip codes to be involved with the initiative in the coming months. You can learn more about Hoosiers Read by clicking here.
Battaglia says if a child grows up without literacy skills, they end up spending time at school learning to read.