This project is submitted as a large collaborative project involving four Clubs in the Verde Valley, AZ, the Rotary Club of Sedona (1st priority $2500), the Rotary Club of the Sedona Red Rocks (1st priority $1900), the Rotary Club of the Verde Valley (1st priority $2500) and The Rotary Club of Sedona Village (2nd priority $2000). The amounts listed in parentheses represent the District matching portion of the Grant.
Language and literacy skills of children living in the Verde Valley area of AZ are significantly behind children from other states. Only 44% of children can pass the 3rd grade state literacy test (AZMerit 2019). Poverty levels are high with 68% of school children qualifying for free or reduced lunch. For about 30%, English is their second language. Affordable housing, medical care and childcare are critical issues. Arizona ranks 48th in the country for early childhood education. Children learn through play and verbal interaction with responsive encouraging caregivers. Early exposure to interactive talking, singing and reading makes a lifelong difference in learning. In addition, language, vocabulary and attention at age 3 predicts who will struggle with reading. Lack of stimulation before age 5 when 90% of neural pathways are complete is a major, preventable cause of learning problems.
Dolly Parton's renown Imagination Library is a book program for children birth to five that inspires a love of books and reading. Kids receive a carefully selected new book in the mail every month with their name on it. They love getting mail and beg their parents to read to them. The books are selected by developmental specialists to be stimulating, age-appropriate with positive themes that promote self-esteem, confidence and regard for diversity. The program increases the time parents spend reading with their children and significantly improves kindergarten readiness for enrolled children. Her foundation publishes and mails the books. Local affiliates such as VVIL pay for books and postage. Parents pay nothing. The program was deemed an "Essential Service" during the COVID-19 Pandemic when libraries, Head Start and preschools were closed.
The Rotary Club of Sedona brought the imagination Library to Sedona children in 2012. Thanks to a one year challenge grant of $25,000 from the Arizona Community Foundation of Sedona in July 2016 and a Rotary District matching grant of $3000, all Rotary Clubs in the Verde Valley (Sedona, Sedona Village, Verde Valley, Sedona Red Rocks) joined forces to expand the Imagination Library to all children living in the Verde Valley. Enrollment started at 400 in July 2016 and is now 2000 in 2021. A new non-profit was formed called The Verde Valley Imagination Library (VVIL) with bylaws calling for at least half the board consisting of active Rotarians representing all participation clubs. The VVIL is completely volunteer run and has no facility overhead. The VVIL serves preschoolers in an area where poverty is high, literacy levels are low and the majority of children do not attend Head Start of preschool. Newborns continue to be enrolled at the birth hospital. The VVIL partners with community libraries, school districts, Head Start and Northern Arizona Healthcare to name a few. Subcommittees of the VVIL include non-board Rotarians that help us with fundraising, web design, advertising, legal needs and more. Two Interact clubs help us with enrolling children.
This is an ongoing project designed to improve early childhood literacy skills through early intervention. Ultimate results will be tracked using the statewide 3rd grade AZMerit reading test. We have seen an improvement in AZ Merit scores in a 3 year period (2016-2019).