A Love Letter to Tennessee: From Nissan & Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation

Make Tennessee your Valentine this year by sparking a love of reading in children.

February 2022

By James Pond, GELF President and Parul Bajaj, Senior Manager, Philanthropy, Nissan U.S. and Executive Director, Nissan Foundation and GELF board member

Dear Tennessee,

This year, you and your future are our Valentine. From your breathtaking landscapes to your deep-rooted culture and economic freedom, there’s much to love about you. That’s why it seems everyone is moving closer—from new citizens to large companies.

2020 census data shows that your population grew to 6.9 million over the past 10 years, representing 565,000 additional Tennesseans to call you home.

New research reveals you are the second most popular destination for companies fleeing California. Since 2018, over 25 California headquarters put boots on the ground in your backyard, and over the next ten years, your manufacturing employment is projected to grow by 15.6 percent, adding more than 480,000 workers to your payrolls.

While you have experienced an increase in so many new jobs, new opportunities, and new population growth, you have experienced a decline in your children’s educational achievement. Since 2019, third grade reading proficiency has dropped 13%. Now, only 33% of your third graders are reading proficiently. Your population rose, but your literacy rates fell.

Third grade reading proficiency is the benchmark where children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and is a key indicator for future educational success and workforce readiness.

Today’s readers are tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s teachers, tomorrow’s workers. How can we work together to support your next generation?

The first step to literacy is to help children develop a love of reading at an early age. A love of reading means more than words on a page or pages in a book. A love of reading sparks lifelong learning, lifelong skills, and lifelong success. It’s an experience that can change a child’s future.

That’s why at Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF), we partner with a network of volunteers, donors, corporations, and organizations to provide literacy programs, books and resources to Tennessee families at no cost. Through our Birth-5 Book Delivery, we partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to mail one age-appropriate, high-quality book each month to children from birth to age five, at no cost to families.

Thanks to Nissan U.S. and other corporate partners, GELF has mailed over 45 million books. Nissan has contributed over $1.7 million to GELF since 2005, supporting Imagination Library affiliates in Middle Tennessee where they have facilities.

Nissan believes that education nurtures opportunity and prepares young people for jobs that will support the communities where we live and work. As a major employer in Middle Tennessee, we recognize that education is vital to business, and by investing in education we are investing in the future of our business. Through reading, children develop curiosity, creativity and communication skills, which will serve them well throughout their school years and beyond.

Having books in the home has consistently proven to be a predictor of children’s academic success. Research shows that literacy programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library lead to early language development, school readiness and higher educational outcomes.

Since 2010, enrollment in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has grown 32% in Tennessee, now serving 284,000 birth to age five children statewide this month, representing 70% of the age-eligible population. There are 122,972 kids across Tennessee we need to reach with this program, future leaders with their hearts open to develop a love of reading through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

We love you, we love Dolly, and yet we still need additional support to serve more children.

In honor of Valentine’s Day this month, GELF and Nissan are encouraging Tennesseans and Tennessee companies to join our efforts to develop a love of reading in children and strengthen early literacy statewide.

Make Tennessee’s future your Valentine by supporting GELF.


GELF & Nissan

Post a photo of a book you love on social media with the hashtag #LoveofReadingTN #MyTNValentine and tag us at @GovEarlyLiteracyTN!