MANSFIELD -- Parents can register their infants for new books each month through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Celia Flinn, a Mansfield pediatrician with Akron Children's Hospital, led a press conference Friday morning at Richland County Public Health, on Lexington Avenue.
"We need to start reading to babies at birth for this reason," Flinn said. "Babies are born with lots of brain cells, but not so many synaptic connections.
"Children, in the first nine months of their life, 80 percent of those connections are formed. So if you sing and talk and read to your children, the literacy and vocabulary sections of your brains are stimulated a lot. That process needs to happen in the first nine months. When they get to school-age, it's too late."
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library will allow all Richland County infants access to the book-shipping program, organizers said.
"That's what Dolly Parton understood, and that's why she started this program," Flinn said.
in 1995, country music legend Dolly Parton saw a need in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and purchased books for young children in the town. The program grew, and in 2003, the Imagination Library had mailed one million books. There are currently 2,000 affiliate programs in the United States and 54 in Ohio.
Since the program's beginning, it has gifted more than 15.2 million books around the world, equivalent to one book mailed every two seconds, according to the annual report.
Dolly Parton was not at the press conference.
Through July, 218 children in Richland County have received 680 books.
The program eventually will serve children ages 0-5. But for now, due to finances, the focus is on infants with intentions to expand as soon as possible.
Flinn said there are 4,400 eligible children for this program.
"It would cost $94,000 for us to serve the ages 0-5 throughout the county," Flinn said.
Currently the budget is around $20,000.
Richland Public Health provides help with publicity, data compilation and meeting space for the committee.
The cost of participation is $25 a year per child, Flinn said. So far, the program has received multiple grants and corporate and personal donations.