United Way’s Imagination Library Helps Family Build Bonds Through Reading

When Amanda’s three-year-old daughter Paislee received her latest Imagination Library book, it was her 13-year-old son, Owen, who rushed to the mailbox to retrieve it. “He probably won’t admit that to you now,” laughs Amanda. “But he did that.”

Amanda has a big family. She and her husband have 10 children, and they all love books. Amanda jokes that a local library branch once instituted a 100-book borrowing limit because her family was taking out so many at a time. So when she first heard about United Way’s Imagination Library – which mails one free book a month to children from birth through age 5 – she was eager to sign up.

Her two youngest kids – Paislee and one-year-old Dylen – now receive books in the mail. And although her older children don’t get Imagination Library books, each delivery provides an opportunity to bond with their younger siblings. 11-year-old Emmalee, for one, is always keen to read any book that comes through the mail. “Even if it’s a little kid’s book,” says Amanda. “She’ll pull a kid over and say, ‘Hey, let’s read this!"

At seven years old, Amanda’s son Kaeden is just about to start the second grade. Though he can read, he lacks confidence with books, often avoiding the ones meant for his age group. But his anxiety melts away when he reads an Imagination Library book to his baby brother Dylen, who listens without judgment. With time, Amanda hopes this exercise will give him the confidence he needs to grow as a reader.

In April of this year, United Way unveiled its four Bold Goals for 2025. As its Bold Goal #1, United Way has committed to raising the percentage of Akron Public Schools third-graders reading at or above grade level to 65 percent. Critical to this effort will be programs like Imagination Library, which cultivate a love for reading before kids even start school.

For Amanda, that gift of reading is the greatest benefit of Imagination Library. Books have had a tremendous impact on her children – one she sees every day. “The books make them think a lot more,”she says. Even a fiction book can provide a glimpse at another way of seeing the world. “It gives them a look at someone else’s life, so that they can see how it fits in with them. Or maybe it doesn’t. But even then they learn something.”