Who paves the way for Imagination Library books to arrive at a child's home, on time? Who makes sure that each book is addressed properly to each individual child? Who reads every book to evaluate quality, age level and content? Who spends days, weeks, months fundraising to ensure books are free for all registered children? In these Front Porch interviews you'll meet a few of the people who have worked hand-in-hand to grow the program and introduce it to new cities, states and countries. Our Managing Editor, Jacob Timmons, connects via video call with David Dotson, Jeff Conyers and Ann Staup to talk about some of the key milestones of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. They share funny stories, talk about the challenges and rewards and even share their own ideas for writing a children's book.
David Dotson is the chief executive officer of the Dollywood Foundation, the nonprofit organization which houses the Imagination Library. David joined the Imagination Library team shortly after it launched. He led the initial replication efforts which grew the program. When it started, the Imagination Library mailed around 1600 books to children in Dolly's home county in East Tennessee. When replication of the program was introduced more counties came on board followed by different states and eventually countries. In that effort, David worked closely with Jacob Timmons, who also happens to be president of S.D. Professionals, LLC, the company that created a fully-automated operation that streamlined the entire process for the Imagination Library program. In a recent Zoom call, David and Jacob talked about the early days of replicating the program in new areas.
In the interview, David is also quick to praise the unsung heroes of the Imagination Library. The people who "made our dream, their dream." He said,
"There is always one, two, three, four people in an organization or in a community who are really the heroes, the unknown heroes...They are some of the most talented, most committed, most inspiring people in the world."
Jeff Conyers, brought on in 2011, is the President of the Dollywood Foundation and shares David and Jacob's passion for growth and expansion. His devotion to the Imagination Library is unmistakable. The consummate champion for the program, Jeff is devoted to seeing each local affiliate succeed. He credits part of his enthusiasm to experiencing first-hand the benefits of monthly books arriving in the mail. Jeff said,
"I've had the opportunity to see it in my own family, right at home, and watch my kids grow up getting a book in the mail every month. Seeing them run up to me saying, 'Hey, Daddy Daddy, will you read this book to me?' And I know that's happening in millions of homes all across the world right now because of the work that we get to come in and do every day."
The actual mailing of the books is a critical part of the Imagination Library's story. Jacob called up Ann Staup the owner of Direct Mail Services, Knoxville, TN, to talk about how the books move from a warehouse in East Tennessee to the doorsteps of millions of children. Her business is sometimes referred to as "the little company who could" because they made such incredible strides to facilitate the needs of the program. For Ann and her team, this work is more than a labor of love, it's challenged her to adapt and grow in many ways that she could never have imagined. A mailing list that started at 1600 books in 1995 now increases each month and the current monthly total sitting at 1.7 million books! In the interview, Ann talks about the automated mailing process, her devoted team and milestones she has witnessed over the years. Ann said,
"It's a passion to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure this program grows, the way that Dolly wants it to grow."
A new feature-length documentary spotlights Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and the thousands of local affiliates around the world who help make Dolly's dream come true. The Library That Dolly Built will premiere on Facebook worldwide on December 9, 2020, at 7 PM EST. Additionally, a European premiere is set for Thursday, December 10 at 7 PM GMT. The film will premiere in Australia on Friday, December 11 at 7 PM AEDT.
The film features the music of Dolly Parton and is narrated by actress and author, Danica McKellar. It is produced by Land Grant Films, directed by journalism professor Nick Geidner, edited by video instructor Clinton Elmore and crewed by 15 University of Tennessee students.
On May 3, 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held an annual event at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. During this event, FBI Director Christopher Wray presented 57 individuals and organizations with the Director's Community Leadership Award.
The Director's Community Leadership Awards honor individuals and organizations for their efforts in combating crime, terrorism, drugs and violence in America. Dolly Parton and the Dollywood Foundation received this honor from the Knoxville Division for the generous support and goodwill provided to the people who were affected by the 2016 wildfires. David Dotson, Chief Executive Officer of the Dollywood Foundation accepted the award on behalf of the Foundation. Dolly Parton responded to the honor with a special message.
The awards were formally created in 1990 to honor the work of community leaders supporting the FBI's mission. Honorees are nominated by leaders of the FBI's 56 field offices and the Bureau's Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
On Saturday, March 16, Dolly Parton met with all of the Fire Chiefs in Sevier County at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa. In recognition of their instrumental role in fighting the 2016 wildfires, The Dollywood Foundation's My People Fund donated $20,000 to each volunteer fire station and gave $40,000 to their area training center. In total, Dolly presented them with $200,000 for their brave service to the community.
"It is only fitting that the last of the My People Fund will go to those who were the first to respond to the fires," said Dolly Parton.
Tim Baker is the Chief of Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department and current President of the Sevier County Fire Chiefs Association. He said, “We are so thankful for this donation to all of the fire departments and for our training center. The Waldens Creek VFD will use part of the money to purchase gear and part of the money to replace the roof on the station.”
According to Chief Baker, the training center donation will help build a new classroom. The training center is located on Center View Road, on property donated by the county. It's used by all fire departments in the county as well as local law enforcement. Chief Baker said,
"This is fantastic. We needed about $40,000 to meet our goal for the classroom and now we have it!”
In conjunction with this donation, the Tennessee House of Representatives presented Dolly Parton with a resolution to recognize and honor her as one of Tennessee's most beloved and accomplished daughters.
Pictured from Left to Right: Mark White, Dale Carr, Dolly Parton, Ron Travis, Andrew Farmer and Robin Smith
The Dollywood Foundation established the My People Fund just 48 hours after the 2016 wildfires. In the weeks and months following, the Fund provided $1000 each month for six months to Sevier County families whose homes were uninhabitable or were completely destroyed in the Smoky Mountain wildfires. Any family who lost their primary residence (renters and homeowners) due to the wildfires in Sevier County were eligible. Due to the tremendous outpouring of donations and support, the final distribution checks were $5000 (per family).
Photo Credits: Curtis Hilbun
Pictured Above from Left to Right: Pete Kilman, Marvin Rolen, Tim Baker, John Satterfield, Heidi Satterfield, Dolly Parton, Joe Fields, Stephen Walley, Chris Young, Tony Patty, John Linsenbigler
Dolly Parton wins Emmy at the 32nd Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards in the Community Service category for Smoky Mountains Rise. Dolly Parton won alongside collaborators Nicholas E. Dugger, Danny Nozell, Pete Owens, Scott Durand, Shanna Strassberg, Edie Lynn Hoback and John Zarling.
During the ceremony, Dolly and the Dollywood Foundation received The Governors’ Award for outstanding achievement in community service. The Board of Governors’ Award is for truly outstanding and unique accomplishments and achievements of some duration and durability. Past recipients include Ralph Emery (1991), NASA TV and Marshall Space Flight Center (2008) and Vanderbilt University News Archive (2012).
“I am so excited to receive these awards tonight, when people ask me what I want them to say about me 100 years from now, I always joke that I want them to say ‘boy, she sure does look good for her age!’ But, in all honesty, I want the work we’ve done through the Dollywood Foundation and Imagination Library to stand the test of time. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want my music to be a part of that story, but in all honesty, my music has been a part of everything I have ever done in this business. My music has given wings to my dreams ever since I was a child, and as I sit here tonight, I am so thankful for the fans who have stood by me and supported me all of these years.”
Congratulations to Dolly for receiving the Governors’ Award for outstanding achievement during the regional Emmys ceremony tonight! We at Dollywood are proud of all you’ve accomplished.
Posted by Dollywood on Saturday, January 20, 2018
UPDATE Jan. 20 - Dolly Parton wins Emmy at the 32nd Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards in the Community Service category for Smoky Mountains Rise. Dolly Parton is nominated for a 32nd Midsouth Regional Emmy Award in the Community Service category for Smoky Mountains Rise, along with collaborators Nicholas E. Dugger, Danny Nozell, Pete Owens, Scott Durand, Shanna Strassberg, Edie Lynn Hoback and John Zarling.
During the ceremony, Dolly and the Dollywood Foundation will receive The Governors’ Award for outstanding achievement in community service. The Board of Governors’ Award is for truly outstanding and unique accomplishments and achievements of some duration and durability. Past recipients include Ralph Emery (1991), NASA TV and Marshall Space Flight Center (2008) and Vanderbilt University News Archive (2012).
The event will be streamed live Saturday, January 20, at 8:00 pm Central Time from Nashville’s Music City Center.