Missoula United Way delivered its 150,000th book this week as part of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The program, brought to Missoula in 2015, mails a free book each month to all enrolled children from ages birth to five.

Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of Missoula County United Way, details the benefits that come from access to books at an early age.

“We know from all the studies that have been done in other communities, and from some studies that we’re doing on our own, that kids who have access to imagination library enter kindergarten with greater language skills and more social skills than other kids, and are reading at grade level by third grade at higher rates than other kids.”

The Imagination Library has been met with excitement from children and parents alike. United Way conducted parent surveys and found that 99% of parents think that the program should be expanded statewide.

“Everywhere we go, people talk about what a wonderful program it is [and] how excited their little kids get when the book comes to their home,” Patrick explains. “There is still something exciting, even in this high-tech day and age, about a little kid getting a book with his or her name on it every month.”

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library program is available to everyone, regardless of income level.

In Patrick’s words, “we all win when kids are reading.” To give community members a way to contribute, United Way is hosting an initiative called “Give the Gift of Reading.” A donation of $30 will supply the postage to send a year’s worth of books to a child whose family may not able to afford it. To donate, visit missoulaunitedway.org.