Katrina and Braylin

Braylen walked across the room quickly, carrying a piece of white construction paper decorated with brown yarn.

As soon as she saw it, Braylen’s mother, Katrina, recognized who her 3 year-old son had drawn, “That’s Llama, Llama.”

Katrina was as excited as Braylen. “You made llama, llama.”

Braylen attended an information session in February 2015 at Campbell Elementary School to learn about a program operated by the United Way and funded – in part – by Covelli Enterprises, that sends a new book every month to children under 5.

Books featuring the whimsical “Llama Llama” are part of the series.

Braylen is among about 3,500 area children under 5 years-old who receive books mailed to them at their homes each month.

Organizers of the program, developed by the country music star Dolly Parton, are constantly working to enroll more and have established a goal of 8,465 children in Mahoning County.

Kathy Mock, director of education and initiatives at the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, explained why the program, called Imagination Library, is so important.

“This is not just about getting books into kids’ hands,” she said. “It’s about bring parents along too and stressing the importance of literacy. They become reading buddies.”

Katrina and Braylin

Campbell’s preschool teachers have strongly endorsed the program. For Jan McConnell, who has been teaching preschool for 34 years, said she believes Imagination Library encourages parent-child interactions over reading. “That will serve them well their entire lives,” she said.

Jessie Hall, a preschool teacher who also has a daughter who receives books through Imagination Library, said she values the program so much because it encourages her daughter, Sophia, and others to pay more attention to books and be less obsessed with electronics.

Hall said the program encourages children to rely more on their imaginations.

Lisa Jackson and her 4 year-old son, Sam, have loved the program. Laughing, she explained that there are times when she has to hide the books when they arrive because they are too busy doing something else at that time.

“He wants to run right to the book and doesn’t want to wait,” she said.

She said his favorite books are the “ABCs” and “Chicka, Chicka, Boom Boom.”

Lisa said Sam appreciates all of his books and knows that they are his. “Children can never have too many books,” she said.

Mock said that the research on the positive effects of having children read with their parents is conclusive.

She said that birth to 5 years are the most critical times for children to develop reading as a habit and to learn. Children’s brains during that time are the most active for sensory, language and cognitive development.

Plus, she said statistics show that children who have trouble reading in the 3rd grade are less likely to graduate from high school.

She said the costs of the program is $25 per child.

For more information about the program, including how to sign up or how to make donations, please contact www.ymvunitedway.org or visit 330-746-8494.

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