Are we really this good?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2010

“You have no idea how good this community is,” Curtis Simpson told a room full of Rotarians this week.

It was a bold statement, for sure, but one he explained well.

An engineer by training, Simpson came here because a job brought him. As had been his custom wherever he went, he worked to put together a Christmas program for kids. It was among his most successful efforts ever, with hundreds of children receiving gifts.

When he and June married and he decided to stay, he got interested in a community theater. ACT I now has many years of success behind it.

“When we lost our grandchild, June and I wanted some way to keep Meredith’s memory alive,” he said. Now, Meredith’s Miracles helps families dealing with childhood illnesses every day.

So when Curtis attended a national civic convention in Tennessee and learned about The Imagination Library, he didn’t hesitate.

“I knew we could do it here,” he said.

Founded by country music star Dolly Parton in 1996 in an effort to combat illiteracy in her native Tennessee, the program operates worldwide.

The program provides a new hardcover book to pre-K children each month. Each book costs only $2.33, which includes mailing.

A committee composed of individuals from education, child development, academia and early childhood literacy selects the books for Dolly’s Imagination Library. The children’s classic, The Little Engine That Could is the first book of each library, and Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate is the final book in the collection.

Curtis has partnered with the Children’s Policy Council, led by Susan Short, to begin putting books in children’s hands. Beginning in January, each child born at Andalusia Regional Hospital will receive a book each month until he goes to kindergarten.

“It does not cost the parents or children one dime,” he said. “The parent doesn’t even have to agree that they’ll read the books to the kids.”

But the success of the program has shown that someone does read those books to the children who receive them.

Approximately 450 babies are born at ARH every year, which means the program will need $13,500 for its first year. At the five-year mark, it will cost $67,000.

Curtis isn’t worried. He’s seen what this community can do.

“I want us to become a reading county,” he said.

Already, the CPC has received a $2,500 grant for the program from Dollar General, as well as a number of private donations. You can provide a child 12 books per year for just less than $30.

Tax deductible donations may be mailed to the Imagination Library at P.O. Box 643, Andalusia, AL 36421. For more information, call Curtis at 427-9907 or 488-4303, or by email at