On Wednesday, May 29th, Community Foundation Sonoma County, First Five Sonoma County, and the Sonoma County Imagination Library Advisory Board held a press conference to announce the launch of the Sonoma County Imagination Library.

CFSC CEO & President Óscar Chávez spoke at the event, along with Angie Dillon Shore, Executive Director of First Five Sonoma County, Chris Coursey, the District 3 representative of the Board of Supervisors, and Beth Fox, chair of the Sonoma County Imagination Library Advisory Board. 

Óscar announced a $50,000 donation from Community Foundation Sonoma County, as well as a $50,000 donation from First Five Sonoma County. This money, which will be matched by the State of California as a part of an initiative to bring the Imagination Library to all of California, will be important seed money as the program launches on June 1st. 

The Sonoma County Imagination Library will bring free books to all children in Sonoma County aged 0-5. California is the first state to offer the option of Bilingual books, which allows parents to choose between either English-only books, or books that have both English and Spanish. You can learn more about the Sonoma County Imagination Library, including how to sign your child up to receive FREE books, here

Read on for Óscar’s reflection on importance of bringing the Imagination Library to Sonoma County! 

“It is fortuitous that we are here today to launch this very important initiative at the Barbara Daniels-Love Head Start center. I recall, as a young boy living on a farm, my little sister Rosie was enrolled in the home-based Head Start program. A home-based educator would come to our home and work with my mom and little sister. This option was available for families living in remote and rural areas, and we lived out in the middle of nowhere.

I remember the parent educator would bring photocopied worksheets for my mom to help my little sister learn the alphabet, and sometimes she would bring books for us older kids. On one occasion, I recall my mom telling the parent educator that she didn’t have paper and crayons to help my sister draw the letters to practice the alphabet.

The parent educator asked my mother if she had table salt and a cookie sheet. My mother said yes, or “sí,” and she walked over to the kitchen and brought the blue Morton container of salt and a cookie sheet. The parent educator took the salt and poured a thin layer all over the cookie sheet. She taught my little sister Rosie to use her fingers to draw the letters. Call it an early prototype of the Etch A Sketch—it worked. This teacher understood that many low-income families have few resources, and she used her creativity and resourcefulness to help her families.

It is deeply personal and heartwarming to know that children like my little sister Rosie will have access to a library of rich content to feed and nurture their creativity and imagination and not default to using salt and a cookie sheet to learn how to read.

We are honored and excited to be part of the group working hard to bring the Sonoma County Imagination Library to our community. I especially want to thank Angie Dillon Shore, Executive Director of First 5, and Amy Holder, our VP for Community Impact, for their vision and commitment to bringing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to our community.

Reading with our families is such a meaningful activity. Whether you read with your kids before bed, in the library, or even just the back of the cereal box, reading with your children can have lifelong, positive impacts on their well-being (and yours!).

Dolly Parton was inspired by her father, who was the smartest man she knew but who was unable to read or write, to build a program that would foster an early love of reading and learning in her community. Since 1995, her program has grown into one of the most impactful early childhood literacy resources in the United States.

As an organization dedicated to the long-term well-being of our community, we know that making early investments in our youngest residents has long-term benefits for children, their families, and our greater community.

The Sonoma County Imagination Library is an investment in early childhood development for our whole county. Investing in our children’s development and parental support, especially for children impacted by poverty, is a powerful way to improve health outcomes, educational achievement, social behavior, and earning potential.

Despite how important kindergarten readiness is, the 2022-2023 READY report found that less than 1 in 5 children in Sonoma County are entering kindergarten ready to succeed, a sharp decline from 40% in 2016. This gap only widens when factoring in racial and economic disparities, something confirmed by the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma Report, research that we co-funded. The report found that a concrete step towards closing this gap is by increasing access to quality preschool education, particularly for children of color and from low-income backgrounds.

For many parents in Sonoma County, accessing quality early childhood education for their children is out of reach, with lasting implications for the trajectory of their children’s lives. Kindergarten readiness and access to early childhood education is an equity issue.

The Sonoma County Imagination Library is one way to help close this widening disparity in access to the resources needed for all children to be successful. Closing this opportunity gap is the only way we will make progress towards improving kindergarten readiness in Sonoma County.

Not only does the Imagination Library send up to 60 free books to children and their families, but California is the first state to offer bilingual books! That means families in Sonoma County will have the option to choose books in both English and Spanish.

The READY report found that kids who speak English at home are twice as likely to be kindergarten-ready as kids who speak Spanish at home. However, the research also shows that bilingual kids have enhanced cognitive and academic skills and stronger ties with family, culture, and community. Being bilingual is a superpower—one that deserves to be celebrated!

We are proud to be a part of this program that will improve the lives of children in our community, improve kindergarten readiness, and put books in the hands of kids!

That’s why we’ve pledged to donate $50,000 to this initiative, along with First 5 Sonoma County, which is also making a $50,000 donation.

Along with our financial support, we’ll manage the fund that collects all donations. First 5 will handle the relationship with the Dolly Parton Foundation and the Sonoma County families who will use these services.

We’re honored to work alongside First 5, the Sonoma County Imagination Library Advisory Board, and everyone else working hard to fundraise and garner support for this important program.

Let us commit to putting free books into the hands of all the kids in our county, no matter their zip code or what language they speak at home! Thank you.” -Óscar Chávez, Community Foundation Sonoma County President & CEO

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