Dozens of youngsters in the greater Hazleton area were born with a connection to country music legend Dolly Parton. They just might not know it yet.

The lucky children are receiving a book at their home each month thanks to Parton and her national Imagination Library, which sends one book per month to children from birth to through age five as a way to improve literacy.

The United Way of Greater Hazleton created a local book-giving program in 2014 to benefit children in the Hazleton region.  PPL has provided $15,000 to the cause, allowing the United Way to add 100 newborns to its book-giving rolls. It’s part of $2 million donated annually by the PPL Foundation to improve education, develop future workers and revitalize communities.

Parton created the organization in 1995 as a tribute to her father, who was unable to read or write, according to the organization’s website. The program started in Parton’s hometown in Tennessee and has expanded over the years. The organization (and Parton) recently celebrated the delivery of its 100 millionth book.

The United Way of Greater Hazleton’s contribution: nearly 13,000 books since the local program’s inception back in 2014. Once a child is born, he or she receives the monthly book through the mail. Currently, 480 children in the Hazleton area are receiving books.

Pictured at right: Kristen Corcoran reads to her son Finn, one of hundreds of Hazleton-area kids receiving books through a PPL-supported literacy program run by the United Way of Hazleton and Dolly Parton Imagination Library. 

Pat Ward, the United Way’s president, said his organization couldn’t be happier with the progress.

“The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a perfect fit for us,” he said. “We began this program when we learned that there were some children registering for kindergarten in the Hazleton Area School District that did not know their letters in either English or Spanish. In fact, we were told that some kids hadn’t seen a book.

“I found that unacceptable. I came back to our staff and said that we need to do something about it. We found the Dolly Parton Library and it was a perfect fit for us.”

It also was a perfect fit for PPL. Seeing how the program could help the community and young children, PPL quickly became a sponsor.

“We always strive to improve the quality of life in our communities,” said Alana Roberts, regional affairs director for PPL Electric Utilities. “We’re excited to help the young people in our service territory and this is a program I think everyone can agree will have a long-lasting benefit in Hazleton.”