Visit an Akron supermarket with a young child in tow and you may come across Kathryn. The 70-year-old retired stockbroker has made it her mission to get children to read with the help of United Way’s Imagination Library. On days when she visits Acme Fresh Market, she carries a stack of registration forms for the program, which sends one free age-appropriate book a month to children under the age of five.
“Some childhoods are not the happiest in the world, but you can always go into books and lose yourself,” says Kathryn, who credits her own love of reading for the success she has had in life. As a child, she was a voracious reader, and books provided comfort, even when her family went through hard times. As a parent, she instilled the same enthusiasm for reading in her own children. “My eldest daughter would take books to bed instead of dolls,” she recalls with a smile. That same daughter is now librarian in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Today, Kathryn is a familiar face at United Way of Summit County’s offices on North Prospect Street. She stops by regularly to pick up registration forms for the Imagination Library program. She estimates that she has passed out hundreds of forms, keeping a stack of them in her car for whenever she comes across a family with young children
To date, more than 8,000 pre-school-aged children have registered for United Way’s Imagination Library program and more than 56,000 age-appropriate books have been distributed across Summit County. With nearly two thirds of low-income families lacking age-appropriate books in their homes and one in three Akron third-graders reading below grade level, United Way is working to ensure children have the preparation they need to succeed in school.
“I saw the amazing change in my own children because they were exposed to books,” says Kathryn. She hopes that, for every child that gets free books from Imagination Library, the positive effects will be felt by an entire family. “You’re getting the parents involved,” she says. “You’re getting the mom involved, you’re getting dad involved, you’re getting the siblings involved…” After all, who doesn’t love children’s books?
“I even like to read children’s books for fun,” she laughs.