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Monday, October 29, 2012 | 05:13am

NASHVILLE – Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam participated last Friday in the first-ever G.I.F.T. (Growing Imagination Library’s Future Together) Summit, a day-long forum hosted by the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) and held in Conservation Hall at the Tennessee Residence. The event was a unique opportunity for Imagination Library volunteers and coordinators from across the state, as they were able to engage with a battery of panels and workshops led by experts and thought leaders in the fields of nonprofit fundraising, early childhood education, corporate philanthropy, digital communications and civic leadership – all with the goal of learning how best to sustain and strengthen one of Tennessee’s most beloved programs.

“The Imagination Library would not be possible without its incredible network of volunteers, program coordinators, and corporate sponsors,” said Mrs. Haslam. “We want to celebrate their hard work and provide them with skills that can help the program grow to be even stronger in the future.”

In her first year as president of the GBBF, Theresa Carl wanted to plan an event that would accomplish the twinned goals of re-energizing Tennessee’s 95 affiliate programs and providing attendees with practical, valuable takeaways for achieving success in their respective counties.

“Today’s G.I.F.T. Summit was an opportunity for our many dedicated and passionate stakeholders to meet and share creative strategies for growing the Imagination Library program throughout the state,” Carl said. “Our goal was to create an event that fosters a meaningful exchange of ideas among county programs, because we learn best from each other by sharing what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do to improve.”

From a panel made up of corporate foundation executives to “speed dating”-style sessions focused on honing nonprofit management skills, today’s G.I.F.T. Summit was a comprehensive attempt to unite county program affiliates around the common cause of strengthening the Imagination Library in Tennessee.

“Early literacy is one of the strongest predictors for success in school and in life,” said Mrs. Haslam. “We make an invaluable investment in the future of Tennessee children when we work to strengthen the Imagination Library program.”

In a pre-recorded video address to the Summit’s attendees, Gov. Bill Haslam thanked them for their hard work and commitment to early childhood literacy, and he charged the coordinators and volunteers with the task of continuing to reach more of Tennessee’s children with books.

“We are fortunate to have such a devoted team committed to instilling the desire to read in our state’s children,” Gov. Haslam said. “We need this plan of action to keep the program strong, and we need to continue pulling together to make it stronger.”

Tennessee’s statewide Imagination Library mails a new, age-appropriate book once a month to registered children, from birth until age five – at no cost to the family and regardless of income. Just $24 annually provides for the purchase and delivery of 12 books to one child. This cost is split evenly between a non-profit sponsoring organization in each Tennessee county, and a state budgetary allocation administered by the GBBF. All 407,000 of the state’s children under age five have access to the Imagination Library. To date, over 16 million books have been delivered since the program began in October 2004.

An increasing body of research supports the idea that children who grow up around books typically achieve better educational outcomes in school.

Currently, 44 percent of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level. Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out later. In a recent study conducted by the Urban Child Institute, research showed that programs like the Imagination Library lead to early childhood language development, school readiness, grade progression, on-time graduation and college attendance.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has concluded that big gaps in educational attainment are present by age five, and that early educational investments have much higher returns than later interventions such as reduced pupil/teacher ratios, public job training, convict rehabilitation programs, tuition subsidies, or expenditure on police. In a paper published in Science magazine he famously concludes that “society overinvests in remedial skill investments at later ages and underinvests in the early years.”

“The beauty of the Imagination Library lies in the simplicity of its driving idea, namely, that reaching preschool children in Tennessee with books from birth will create a wealth of learning opportunities for the children, strengthen the state’s education system in the long-term, and pave the foundation for a strong economy and an educated workforce,” Carl said.

About the GBBF:  The mission of the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation is to sustain and strengthen Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in all 95 Tennessee counties, ensuring that new, age-appropriate books are mailed to Tennessee’s preschool children, at no cost to the family and regardless of income. To learn how to support your county’s Imagination Library program, or for information on how to register a child, visit,, or call toll-free at 1-877-99-BOOKS.


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