Reading over the summer fights learning loss.

Unlocking Potential: The Power of Early Literacy in Childhood

Listen to CEO & President Jenni Marsh talks about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and early literacy on WMUN.

Education is a beacon of hope and opportunity shining through Heart of Indiana United Way's robust impact work.

 Through early literacy and its profound connection to brain development, it is clear, efforts invested in nurturing young minds lay the groundwork for a brighter future. 

Heart of Indiana United Way has long recognized the pivotal role that early literacy plays in shaping the trajectory of a child’s life. Children are born learning. We are helping families embrace their power in raising readers and mobilizing the community to support families and their early learners.
It is important every child in the community has the tools they need to unlock their full potential. One way we are successfully doing this across the five counties we serve is through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This program, inspired by Dolly’s commitment to early childhood education, delivers a simple yet profound message: every child deserves the gift of literature from the very beginning.

This book-gifting program sends age-appropriate books to children from birth to age five every month. Fostering a love for reading from the earliest stages, this initiative begins a lifelong journey of learning and exploration. All children, regardless of their background, have access to the transformative power of books—delivered right to their home. It becomes a catalyst for positive change—paving the way for a generation that is academically successful, intellectually curious, and socially engaged.
The science is clear: within the first five years of a child’s life 90% of brain development occurs. Reading to children during this critical period is not merely a pastime but a strategic investment in their cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. Literacy is not just about decoding words on a page; it is about empowering individuals to think critically, communicate effectively, and navigate the complexities of the world with confidence.

For all these reasons, last year, Indiana passed partially funding Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library programs. This means, the state will fund half of the enrolled children in the program. The other half of the funding for children enrolled in the five counties we serve, comes from donations to Heart of Indiana United Way.

The number of children enrolled in this program is entirely contingent on fundraising success. Thanks goes to organizations like CenterPoint, who help fund children in Madison, Delaware, Henry, and Randolph Counties receiving Imagination Library books; and to the donors and volunteers who help United Way staff manage the administration of this program—which is just one of many things we do to help ensure children and their families have the resources they need.

If you are a United Way donor and have not renewed your support this year—there is still time! If you have never given to Heart of Indiana United Way, making a gift to support this impactful program is a great start. For a $26 donation, with the state’s match, 2 children under the age of five will receive a year’s worth of high-quality books—delivered to their home free of charge. You can also make a gift to support all our early education efforts by designating your gift to our Education impact area. Visit HeartOfIndianaUnitedWay.org to make a donation.

The journey for Madison County’s children towards a literate future begins with each of us. Whether as parents, relatives, educators, community leaders, or advocates, we have the power to shape the narrative for the next generation—and protect their right to read. Let us stand united in our commitment to early literacy. The simple act of reading to a child is a profound investment in their future.