Eminence, Missouri’s population sits at about 600. The poverty rate of Eminence is 23.8 percent. That’s two times the national average. About 75 percent of the school children qualify for free or reduced lunches.
But Whitney Randolph, graduate student in the elementary education program at Missouri State University, has a different perspective of Eminence.
“Our community cares about each other,” Randolph said. “If you were to judge our county’s wealth solely off of our charitable efforts, no one would know we were among the poorest in the state.”
She’s speaking from experience. With the help of her community, Randolph fundraised and established a chapter of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Eminence last year.
About the Dolly Parton Library
Founded by Dolly Parton, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a program to encourage reading in kids. By opening a chapter, parents of children age 0 – 5 can sign up and receive one free book a month in the mail.
Along with the excitement of receiving mail, children get a book tailored for their age group. It’s something to look forward to each month.
“This can set the foundation for positive feelings toward reading and future schooling,” Randolph said.
Establishing a legacy
Randolph first heard about the program from a community group of teachers from rural towns. At the group’s meetings, teachers discuss ways to combat common issues in rural schools.
During a meeting, a few teachers voiced the positive impact the Dolly Parton Imagination Library had on their communities. This sparked an idea for Randolph.
She was going to start a library chapter in Eminence in honor of her grandmother, Edibeth Chilton-Ross.
Edibeth was a kindergarten teacher in Eminence for 27 years.
“She was my inspiration to become a teacher myself,” Randolph said.
After receiving approval from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Randolph started fundraising to start a new branch. She picked the nickname: Edibeth’s Little Red Readers.
“I was so happy to share this news with my grandmother,” Randolph said. “She was very happy to see what I was doing. She was honored to have her name in it. Not to mention, she absolutely loved Dolly Parton.”
Chilton-Ross passed away in January 2018.
Following the passing of her grandmother, Randolph kicked her fundraising into overdrive.
“I wanted to form this program for our community. But now I wanted to honor my grandmother and her legacy of love for learning and reading as well,” Randolph said.
Enjoying the future
Because there is no physical foundation, Randolph was fundraising to provide 75 children a year-long membership. Each membership costs $30 yearly.
In its first year, Edibeth’s Little Red Readers surpassed their goal. They raised enough to provide 78 children a library membership.
“Bringing this project to life has been healing for me,” Randolph said. “Losing my grandmother was hard, but with the Little Red Readers, I can still feel her here.”