Winnipeg Free Press:
Karyn Davis told the Free Press in 2009 her dream was to put the Dolly Parton Imagination Library into every First Nation in Manitoba.
Mission accomplished. Peguis and Nelson House First Nations signed up in July to become the program’s 62nd and 63rd indigenous communities.
Now, Davis is setting her sights on Winnipeg’s inner-city children.
The Imagination Library delivers a book per month to pre-school age children. It isn’t free, however. Communities need to raise $3.55 per child per month, and the Dollywood Foundation covers the rest of the costs, including shipping.
So Davis had to find sponsors.
“It’s a tough sell. It’s not like First Nations are sitting there with huge surpluses of money,” she said.
Peguis was one of the last because it has more than 600 pre-school kids. That’s a big bill. Major sponsors of the program in Manitoba have been Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre, Frontier School Division, Winnipeg Foundation, Manitoba Community Services, Aseneskak Casino, Healthy Child Manitoba and the RBC Foundation.
Erin Desjarlais, who is connected to Lake Manitoba First Nation through her husband, said the program has had an amazing effect on her daughter, Hailee. “When my daughter receives a book in the mail, it makes her feel very special,” Desjarlais said.
“It’s a very special bonding moment between me and my daughter” when we read together, she said. Her daughter is hearing-impaired, so mom will read to her, while dad signs the text.
“She loves books. She has her own bookshelf in her room and takes care of them.”
Katherine McIvor of Ebb and Flow First Nation said her children, including son Kingston, “would look at the pictures and make up their own stories. They always wanted a story read to them every night.”
“We’re blazing a family literacy trail,” Davis said.
Davis, who is Ojibwa from Ebb and Flow First Nation, met social service agencies at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc. on Monday for an information session. The goal is to reach 1,000 kids in 14 inner-city school catchment areas.
Public health nurses and representatives from schools, daycares and literacy organizations participated Monday.
“We know the first five years of a child’s life is when learning happens. Parents are their first teachers, and that’s the message we need to send out,” said Davis, who has worked in early-years education in Dauphin for much of her career. She is currently Dollywood Foundation’s Manitoba director, and is helping launch Early Years magazine aimed at indigenous parents.
In 2013, Davis was honoured for her work with a Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General. She returned the medal to protest against the former Harper government’s policies toward aboriginal people.
Parton started the charitable foundation in honour of her parents, who never learned to read or write.
Parton, who performed in Winnipeg Monday night, was not available to talk to the Free Press. She was saving her voice for her performances on a grueling 67-city tour, and not doing any interviews, her handlers told Davis.
However, Parton sent her congratulations in a prepared statement. “I’m just delighted that the good people in Manitoba have launched the Imagination Library program in all First Nations in Manitoba,” Parton said. “Thanks to sponsors, champions and volunteers, close to 10,000 children will be able build their own libraries and immerse themselves in the magic of reading. Literacy opens so many doors throughout life, and I’m incredibly proud that the Imagination Library program will be helping the on-reserve children to learn more and dream more.”
Manitoba has 94 Imagination Libraries, and accounts for 40 per cent of Dollywood Foundation books shipped to Canada.