Boosting literacy is the focus of ‘Bags for Books’

story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
esierzchula@thecitywire.com

Perfume aromas mingled in the air at the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Springdale Tuesday morning (March 18) for the 2nd annual Bags for Books lunch and auction.

Around 350 women, and a few men, attended the event that supported the United Way of Northwest Arkansas’ involvement in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The United Way and four Altrusa clubs in the region partnered to hold the event with the goal to improve childhood literacy. Children enrolled in the Imagination Library program receive one new book a month until age five, allowing them to build their own libraries. All children can participate, regardless of income.

“Our goal is to surpass $15,000 from ticket sales and auctions, which is about a thousand dollars more than last year,” said Julie Petree, marketing and communications manager with United Way of NWA. “It’s a good way to tell your husband, ‘I spent this much on a purse, but it’s for the children.’”

People enjoyed lunch, dessert and silent and live auctions, which featured many designer purses. Bobbie Morgan, an Altrusa of Bella Vista member, donated a purse she called the “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” which could be used for stylish concealed carry of a handgun.

“This event is so important because it goes for books for children; we need that in our community,” Morgan said.

The United Way announced a change in the eligibility requirements for the program Tuesday. Parents had to enroll their children before age one; however, parents lamented when they just missed the one-year cutoff.

“Early childhood literacy is so important that it’s hard to tell parents of a 13-month-old, ‘Oh well, sorry.’” Now any child five and under can be enrolled.

University of Arkansas English professor David Jolliffe gave a PowerPoint presentation giving evidence that reading to children from an early age has a dramatic and positive effect on their development.

A performance by gifted and talented students at Shaw Elementary School in Springdale was a big hit with the crowd. The seven students performed a skit that showed the multitude of roles that books play in people’s lives, and they read excerpts from classic books. The audience gave them a standing ovation.

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“It took a lot of thinking and research,” said Luann Little, the students’ teacher. “The students came up with everything on their own.”

Parton started the Imagination Library in 1996. In Northwest Arkansas, about 900 children participate in the program.

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