Governor and First Lady Haslam Celebrate Verizon Foundation's Commitment to Tennessee's Imagination Library for Children in Foster Care

May 22, 2017

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam today joined the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) to celebrate its partnership with the Verizon Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to ensure every child in Tennessee’s foster care program, from birth to age five, is automatically enrolled in Tennessee’s Imagination Library. To honor this continued enrollment initiative, Governor and First Lady Haslam read to a group of children in foster care at the Nashville Public Library downtown and spoke with families about the program’s positive impact. 

“Tennessee’s Imagination Library continues its important role in educating children across the state,” Gov. Haslam said. “The foster care initiative is another example of how the library has been able to succeed and grow, and we want to thank Verizon for helping make this possible for these children.”

“The Imagination Library is one of the best programs we have in Tennessee to promote early literacy with children and families,” Mrs. Haslam said. “We need all of our children in Tennessee reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, and expansion of this program to include children in foster care is a great step for our state.”

Committed to addressing social issues and education through philanthropy, the Verizon Foundation provides funding that helps some of the state’s most vulnerable children find comfort in the consistent gift of Imagination Library books they can call their own. Since the partnership began in September 2011, the Verizon Foundation has cumulatively invested over $212,000 to GBBF, funding 50 percent of the program cost for all children entering state custody to begin receiving new, age-appropriate books once a month in the mail.

Julie Smith, Director of State Government Affairs for Verizon, said, “We need more kids to see the world of possibilities waiting for them, and we are happy to be joining with the governor and first lady today to celebrate the children and families participating in this program.  Long-term growth and success are tied to addressing some of society’s biggest issues and it starts in education. We are proud to support educational programs and initiatives in Tennessee where many of our employees work and live.”

Verizon’s funding has provided over 162,363 Imagination Library books to Tennessee children in foster care, and over 3,000 children have graduated from the program. Currently, 2,368 children in foster care are receiving Imagination Library books because of the generosity of the Verizon Foundation and hard work of DCS staff.

“The Department of Children’s Services always encourages our foster families to include reading as part of their daily routine,” DCS Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich said.  “Not only does it create a lifetime love of reading, it improves their creativity and imagination and strengthens their skills in all areas of education. Because of the Verizon Foundation’s generosity in providing Imagination Library books, we are able to give our foster children the opportunity to build early literacy skills and grow to love learning.”

Tennessee’s Imagination Library program is made available to all Tennessee children, from birth to age five, through a unique, three-way partnership between GBBF, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and a local affiliate program in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The program mails a new, age-appropriate book once a month to registered children, from birth to age five – at no cost to the family and regardless of income. All 407,000 of the state’s children under age five have access to the Imagination Library. Now in its 13th year, the program currently mails over 278,000 books each month to enrolled children statewide. To date, over 28 million books have been delivered since 2004.

“Early exposure to great books helps form a lasting bond between children and caring adults,” Theresa Carl, GBBF President, said. “We are grateful to the Verizon Foundation and DCS for their partnership with us that provides the everlasting gift of Imagination Library books to all Tennessee children in foster care.”

Currently, less than 50 percent of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level, and according to current research, 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. Giving children early access to books and reading significantly improves cognitive skills and supports preschool education. Tennessee studies found that Imagination Library participants outperformed non-participants on Kindergarten Literacy assessments and continued this trend even into second and third grades. 

To view additional pictures from the event, please click here