This project is submitted as a large collaborative project involving three Clubs in the Verde Valley, AZ, the Rotary Club of Sedona (1st priority $2500), the Rotary Club of the Verde Valley (1st priority $2500) and The Rotary Club of Sedona Village (1st priority $2500). The amounts listed in parentheses represent the District matching portion of the Grant. The clubs will contribute $1,250 each.
Language and literacy skills of children living in the Verde Valley area of AZ are significantly behind children from other states. Only 44% of children can pass the 3rd grade state literacy test (AZMerit 2019). Poverty levels are high with 68% of school children qualifying for free or reduced lunch. For about 30%, English is their second language. Affordable housing, medical care and childcare are critical issues. Children learn through play and verbal interaction with responsive encouraging caregivers. Early exposure to interactive talking, singing and reading makes a lifelong difference in learning. In addition, language, vocabulary and attention at age 3 predicts who will struggle with reading. Lack of stimulation before age 5 when 90% of neural pathways are complete is a major, preventable cause of learning problems.
Dolly Parton's renown Imagination Library is a book program for children birth to five that inspires a love of books and reading. Kids receive a carefully selected new book in the mail every month with their name on it. They love getting mail and beg their parents to read to them. The books are selected by developmental specialists to be stimulating, age-appropriate with positive themes that promote self-esteem, confidence and regard for diversity. The program increases the time parents spend reading with their children and significantly improves kindergarten readiness for enrolled children. The Dollywood Foundation chooses the books and manages the publishing, labelling, and mailing. Local affiliates such as VVIL pay her Foundation every month for this service. Parents pay nothing and there are no specific requirements to enroll, other than living in the area covered. The program was deemed an "Essential Service" during the COVID-19 Pandemic when libraries, Head Start and preschools were closed.
The Rotary Club of Sedona brought the Imagination Library to Sedona children in 2012. Thanks to a one-year challenge grant of $25,000 from the Arizona Community Foundation of Sedona in July 2016 and a Rotary District matching grant of $3000, all Rotary libraries, school districts, Head Start and Northern Arizona Healthcare's Verde Valley Medical Center to Clubs in the Verde Valley (Sedona, Sedona Village, Verde Valley, Sedona Red Rocks) joined forces to expand the Imagination Library to all children living in the Verde Valley. Enrollment started at 400 in July 2016 and has served over 2,300 children over the past year. A new non-profit was formed called The Verde Valley Imagination Library (VVIL) with bylaws calling for a seat on the Board for every participating Rotary Club. The Board has evolved and now includes active Rotarians, spouses and friends of Rotarians and representatives from community libraries. The VVIL serves preschoolers in an area where poverty is high, literacy levels are low and the majority of children do not attend Preschool. Newborns continue to be enrolled at the birth hospital. Subcommittees of the VVIL include non-board Rotarians that help us with fundraising, web design, advertising, bookkeeping and more. This is an ongoing project designed to improve early childhood literacy skills through early intervention. Ultimate results will be tracked using the new, statewide Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) starting in 2023 as well as the standard, statewide 3rd grade reading test. We saw an improvement in AZMerit scores in a 3 year period (2016-2019).