Kids Can Fly has sent out a quarter of a million books to children in Brantford and the County of Brant since 2010. Each of those 250,000 books were gifted to children free of charge and sent in the mail.

The program is called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and Kids Can Fly runs the local chapter in Brantford and the County of Brant. The Imagination Library was created by Dolly Parton in 1995. The program came to Canada in 2006.

The milestone was celebrated at Kidtastic Adventures in Brantford on Friday, January 5th. Guests learned about what it took to reach 250,000 books, and enjoyed some cake and balloons. $5 from every entrance fee was donated by Kidtastic to the Imagination Library.

“It is incredible that Kids Can Fly has sent out this many books,” shared Mayor David Bailey. “The County is very glad to have an organization like this doing such important work.”

Councillor Richard Carpenter, who was acting mayor on the day of the event, also shared encouraging words as well as gratitude for the investment in the community.

“The Rotary Club of Brantford approached Kids Can Fly in 2009 and suggested that Kids Can Fly partner with the Imagination Library,” says Becca McLellan, executive director at Kids Can Fly. “After evaluating the viability of the program, the board at the time realized it was an amazing fit and enthusiastically signed on.”

Currently, over 30% of children under 5 in Brantford and the County of Brant are enrolled in the program. Children remain enrolled in the program until their fifth birthday, at which time they receive their final book. Nearly 3,000 children are currently enrolled.

“Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been highly impactful in improving children’s literacy skills and enhancing parents’ understanding of its importance. Based on our 2023 Impact Survey, more than two thirds report that Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has had a high impact on their child’s literacy,” says Kathy Kemp, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Coordinator in Brantford and the County of Brant. “We were pleased to see that the remaining one third of parents also indicated that the program has had at least some impact on their child’s literacy development.”

“Both my girls get so excited! They honestly look forward to seeing what book arrives when they see it poking out of the mailbox. My oldest just turned 5, and we explained that she will no longer receive books, but she now has her own library.” —an Imagination Library parent in Brantford/Brant

Children who are enrolled at birth can receive a maximum of 60 books through the program.

The program costs roughly $125,000 per year based on current enrollment. Funding comes almost exclusively from local businesses and individuals, who support the program because they believe in its impacts on early literacy. To date, over $800,000 locally has gone into the program to bring books to young children.

SC Johnson is one of the most prominent funders, having supported the program generously over the last number of years. Donn Zver Pottery is another avid supporter, helping to raise close to $10,000 per year through its popular Christmas ornament sales.

Some funding support has also come from the municipalities through grant programs as well as through the Mayor’s Gala in 2022, which raised $47,000 for the Imagination Library.

In 2023, donations declined significantly, largely due to financial struggles of local businesses and households. As such, enrolment has declined from well over 3,200 children at its peak to closer to 2,800 in December 2023.

“We have unfortunately had to start a wait list for the program,” explained Kathy Kemp. “We had to slow down enrollments to make sure we could sustain the enrollments we currently have.”

The wait list peaked at 65 children in the fall of 2023. Kids Can Fly is working to raise $16,000 to clear the wait list and fully fund each child for the duration of their times on the program.

Financial supporters are encouraged to visit the Kids Can Fly website to donate to the program or to contact Kathy Kemp or Becca McLellan.

“Despite this temporary slow-down in program funding, we will continue to promote everything that this program has to offer the community. We would love to one day reach 60% of eligible children in the region,” says McLellan.

“Kids Can Fly plans to continue the Imagination Library indefinitely,” said McLellan at the celebration gathering. “We believe in this program and will do what it takes to see it continue for many more generations of young children in this community.”