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Imagination at your child’s doorstep

Courtney Schmidt poses with a collection of books that a child might receive in the mail through the Imagination Library. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

The Imagination Library is a program that sends books, for free, to children. It was started by Dolly Parton in Tennessee in 1996. Since then it has expanded nationwide.

“In Duluth, it started in 2008 after a community impact study was done that showed that kids needed more access to books here. So United Way took it on,” said Courtney Schmidt, the United Way of Greater Duluth’s community initiatives coordinator. Schmidt was speaking at last month’s Professional Women’s Network luncheon at the Holiday Inn & Suites.

Currently there are 3,474 area children enrolled in the Duluth area.

“You can enroll at birth; it goes from birth to age five. And you get age-appropriate books sent to your door every single month,” Schmidt said.

In 2013, children in the greater Duluth area received 45,572 books through the program.

“Here in Duluth, ISD 709, 46 percent of third graders are proficient in reading. You can see that there’s a huge number of kids who, when they take that MCA test in fifth grade, they’re still not proficient,” Schmidt said.

The book program encourages parents to read with their children in order to build proficiency.

Every year, United Way conducts a survey to gauge the program’s effectiveness and see if the families are enjoying the program.

“Some of the comments we get back are really remarkable,” Schmidt said. “One was ‘If it weren’t for this program, we wouldn’t be reading together at all.’ Another said, ‘He’s more interested in books now than TV.’ I think that’s a win in and of itself.”

When the books arrive in the mail, they are addressed to the child. Schmidt says the parents find that their children enjoy receiving their own mail. Schmidt shared a story about her chiropractor whose daughter is enrolled in the program. The child is two years old and already recognizes her name written out.

“She gets the box and says, ‘That’s my name! I know what this is!’” Schmidt said.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to send out 45,572 books. Each year the United Way holds the “Power of the Purse” fundraiser to raise funds for the program. This year’s event will be held in the Spirit Mountain Chalet on Thursday, May 1 at 5 p.m. It features a silent auction, wine tasting, appetizers and dessert.

This year’s speaker will be Duluth’s award winning children’s author and storyteller Lise Lunge-Larsen. She has written seven storybooks and won the Minnesota Book Award three times. Lunge-Larsen says she is excited to speak to many young mothers and educators about how to inspire imagination in their children.

“How to stimulate imagination is not by the latest technology and media but by that one-on-one time with children. It’s to not forget the human element,” Lunge-Larsen said.

Lunge-Larsen says she has attended the event in the past because she likes to support the work of the Imagination Library.

“It embodies everything I believe in as an educator and as an author and storyteller. It’s all about getting books into the hands of children,” Lunge-Larsen said.

The United Way of Greater Duluth is currently accepting donations for the “Power of the Purse” silent auction. If you are interested in donating, please contact Courtney Schmidt at 218-726-4729 or Items up for auction currently include lunch with the Mayor, ballroom dance classes and various purses.


Column: ‘Richer than I you can never be —’

If you go

What: Power of the Purse Imagination Library Fundraiser

Where: Spirit Mountain Chalet

When: 5-8 p.m. Thursday, May 1

Cost: $45 each

Registration: or call 726-4700 or 726-4853 or at the door

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176