Books for kids, farm loans topics at MT Rotary

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marked Tree's Rotary Club heard two speakers last week. Diana Holmes spoke on behalf of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, and Sandra Spears spoke for the Farm Service Agency.

Holmes has been going around the state speaking to Civic Clubs about sponsoring Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in their communities. Holmes said she is starting with Rotary clubs to get the program going but hopes to get the state legislative branch to help with funding too.

According to Holmes, Dolly Parton grew up poor but loved to read. When she became wealthy later in life, Parton wanted to help other children and foster a love of reading from an early age.

In 1996, Parton launched the Imagination Library in Sevier County, her home county. The program supplies an age-appropriate book a month to children from birth until age five at no cost to the families. Parton went on to fund the program in Branson, Mo., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., where her businesses operate.

From there, the program has been funded by non-profits and exists in 566 counties across 36 states and Canada. In 2007, the program even expanded into the United Kingdom with the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library distributes over 2.5 million free books a year.

Holmes said more than 200,000 children are enrolled in the program in Tennessee. Her goal is to get the Imagination Library going across the whole state of Arkansas. Holmes also said children who are enrolled in the program learn reading better once they start school than those who are not enrolled.

The books are distributed by the Dollywood Foundation and chosen by a National Committee made up of representatives from Parents as Teachers National Center, International Reading Association, University of Tennessee, Rutgers University and teachers. New titles are introduced every year.

Spears spoke about the different types of loans the Farm Service Agency offers. Spears said the FSA offers loans to farmers in Poinsett and Crittenden County.

"We can help starting-out farmers with low interest loans," Spears said.

The loans have fixed interest rates "to benefit farmers," Spears said. The FSA also offers emergency loans since Arkansas was declared a disaster area due to drought conditions.

As a new project this year, FSA is offering conservation loans for farmers using approved conservation programs on their farms.

Spears said they also offer loans to people who are unable to obtain loans elsewhere, such as FFA and FHA students who need smaller amounts, like $500 for a project like raising an animal for a year. All they need is a sponsor and parental consent, and FSA will work directly with the child, she said.

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