Ohio first lady Fran DeWine announced the launch of Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library during a press conference at the Hillsboro Public Library Friday. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Ohio first lady Fran DeWine announced the launch of Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library during a press conference at the Hillsboro Public Library Friday. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Local public officials, business leaders and educators, as well as some young library patrons, joined Ohio first lady Fran DeWine at the Hillsboro Public Library Friday morning for the announcement of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library (OGIL) in Highland County.

According to a press release from the Ohio Governor’s Office, “Any child from birth to age 5 can enroll to receive books from Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library. After enrollment, children will begin receiving a new book each month, at no cost to their family, until they reach the age of 5.

“The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library is working to ensure children in all 88 of Ohio’s counties can enroll in Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library in 2020 by providing a dollar-for-dollar funding match with each county that opens OGIL to its residents. The Ohio General Assembly committed $5 million to OGIL in the state fiscal year 2020-21 budget.”

First lady DeWine told The Highland County Press that this program will help foster “lifelong readers and lifelong library users” across the state.

As of Friday, March 6, the program is now open to Highland County residents, as the first lady invited parents, grandparents and caregivers to enroll children in the OGIL at ohioimaginationlibrary.org.

This program is being made available locally due to the generous support of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. Patrick Higgins, Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives Director of Communications and Member Services, was on hand Friday for the OGIL launch announcement. According to Amy Timmerman of OGIL, Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives will be facilitating the program locally as well as providing funding.

Hillsboro Library children’s department manager Gabrielle Pitzer opened Friday morning’s press conference by thanking Hillsboro mayor Justin Harsha, Hillsboro city auditor Alex Butler, Highland County commissioner Jeff Duncan, State Rep. Shane Wilkin, Teresa Lewis of Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s office and State Sen. Bob Peterson’s wife, Lisa, for being among those in attendance for the launch.

“Fran DeWine is a committed advocate for Ohio’s children,” Pitzer said in introducing the first lady. “She is a champion for children’s nutrition and cooking together as a family.

“As first lady, she’s also fiercely passionate about improving early childhood literacy by spearheading Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library. As the mother of eight and grandmother of 24, she has seen firsthand the power of books to change a child’s life and set them up for success.”

DeWine told the crowd that Friday is “a great day” in Highland County. “Starting today, every young child, in every town, every county road, in Highland County, can now receive free books through the Imagination Library,” she said. “We’re really excited about that.

“That’s 2,900 children, from the time they’re born to the time they reach 5 years old, who will be eligible to receive a new book every single month.”

DeWine showed a sample of some of the books available through the free program, including the first book children receive, “The Little Engine That Could,” and the last book, “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come.” Other books include popular favorites such as “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the first lady said. Books are delivered wrapped in plastic and personally addressed to each child.

“These are really great books,” DeWine said. “A child born today, if you sign them up, by the time they turn 5 years old will get 60 books in their library.”

DeWine said that she and her husband, Governor Mike DeWine, were first introduced to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through their own grandchildren, who were participants in the program. They were inspired by their grandchildren’s enthusiasm each month when they received a new book.

“They were so excited,” DeWine said. “There’s just something about a child getting a book in the mail, addressed to them, that’s really fun.

“It’s just a wonderful, happy thing for children to actually get that book.”

When Mike DeWine was elected governor, the first lady said that she suggested implementing Parton’s program statewide, feeling it would be beneficial for children who may not have regular access to public libraries, including those in “inner cities, Appalachian counties and rural counties.”

“We’ve made it our goal to have every single child in Ohio eligible for these books,” DeWine said. “We know that’s an aggressive goal, but Mike and I have always worked with families, and kids have been our priority.”

DeWine said that thanks to “generous funding support from our friends in the Ohio Legislature” and local supporters, the OGIL should be implemented “in about 80 counties” by the end of March.

“I’m just so excited about that,” the first lady said. “Here in Highland County, it’s Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives making this program possible, and I think that’s such a wonderful fit for us to have the cooperatives helping us in this way. We are just really excited. Every dollar they give, the state will match.

“This effort by so many of us is going to make a huge difference for our kids. Here’s a few reasons. Reading is one of the single greatest things we can do for our kids and with our kids, and it’s really an indicator of how they’re going to do later on in their life. Brain science shows us that by the time a child turns 3 years old, 80 percent of their brain is developed. We can’t waste those early years. It’s so important. Those are critical to development.”

DeWine also shared data on benefits to the Imagination Library, including information from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that showed participants improving their kindergarten readiness score by 15 points within three years.

“Imagine the difference that can make if when these kids start kindergarten, they’re ready to start kindergarten,” DeWine said. “I just think it’s an amazing program and a no-brainer for us to do it. We want to make sure every child enters kindergarten with a good, strong start.”

DeWine said that she wants to “encourage all Highland County parents, grandparents and caregivers to take a few minutes to enroll” children infants to age 5 into the program.

“When you enroll a child into the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library program, you’re helping to make an impact that can really, potentially, last their entire lifetime,” DeWine said.

Following remarks from the first lady, Higgins also encouraged the community to support the OGIL on behalf of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. Higgins said the company is “the statewide association that works on behalf of” 25 rural electric cooperatives across Ohio, including Adams Rural Electric Cooperative, which serves Highland County.

“One of the primary of the electric cooperative industry is concern for community, and that certainly starts with the youngest members of the community,” Higgins said. “We’re extremely happy to partner with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library and the people of Highland County to promote literacy and the joy of literature.”

Following the press conference, several young ones in attendance were invited to attend a special story time, as DeWine read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to local children.

After the Highland County announcement, DeWine said she would be traveling to Clinton and Butler counties to launch the Imagination Library in those respective areas Friday.

For more information or to sign your child up for the OGIL, visit ohioimaginationlibrary.org.