The Imagination Library began in 1995 in Dolly’s hometown of Locust Ridge in Sevier County, Tennessee. The program provides age-appropriate books every month to children up to age 5. Books are mailed directly to the home, and are addressed to the child.
Aletha Bonebrake, OTEC Board of Director and chairwoman of the Baker County Library Foundation in Baker City, says that whether a parent reads to a child or not, when the book comes into the home in the child’s name, the child will begin using their imagination to tell the story, even if it’s just from the pictures. Aletha heard about the Imagination Library program after meeting Jan Rippey, who brought the Imagination Library to Wilsonville. The Imagination Library is run by the Dollywood Foundation, which partners with local nonprofits or school districts. The partnering entity is responsible for registering local children and providing stable funding to pay for the books, which is $25 a child a year. There is no cost to families. All children are eligible, regardless of family income.
The James and Shirley Rippey Family Foundation offered to pay 50 percent of the cost for new Imagination Library programs started by June 2018 in rural Oregon counties with a population of fewer than 100,000. After several meetings, an idea for funding surfaced: the OTEC scholarship fund, which is funded by unclaimed capital credits. OTEC’s scholarship committee and the board of directors approved the cooperative becoming a major funding sponsor for at least five years. This sponsorship has no effect on electric rates, because unclaimed capital credits are from members who have moved and cannot be found, or who have died without heirs. By law, these funds can only be used for community programs. With this funding in motion, the Imagination Library became a reality for Eastern Oregon counties.
Collectively, Harney, Union, Baker and Grant counties will be the 18th location in Oregon to use the Dolly Parton program. According to officials with the Dollywood Foundation, OTEC is the first electric cooperative in the nation to take a leading role in bringing the Imagination Library to its citizens.