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While falling rain made Tuesday an ideal time to don a hat while outdoors, indoors at the Fremont Golf Club more than 100 people wore hats for a different reason.

The Fremont Area United Way hosted its Eighth Annual “Hats Off To Literacy” Luncheon on Tuesday, where guests donned a variety of stylish, fun and wacky hats while raising money for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a national program that, locally, provides more than 1,100 children in Dodge County (from birth to age 5) with an age-appropriate book each month in the mail to help promote literacy.

“As of today 14,082 books have been delivered to Dodge County children,” United Way Executive Director Shawn Shanahan said, receiving a round of applause from the crowd. “We are one of nine counties in the state of Nebraska that operates an Imagination Library program and I want to believe that it is a starting point for kids to be successful.

“Reading to children is the first step to creating positive change.”

Shanahan also noted that providing books to children in the community through the Imagination Library costs pennies when considering the positive impact just one book can have on a child’s life.

It’s $30 per year to sponsor a child, which goes toward the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, allowing them to get an age-appropriate book each month.

“Early learning and early intervention saves all of us money later,” Shanahan said. “This should be an issue and an initiative that everyone in the community wants to support, because if kids are academically ready for school, they are more likely to succeed.”

As well as serving as one of the major fundraisers for the local Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program, the “Hats Off To Literacy” event also included guest speaker Dawn Gilfry.

Gilfry has worked in early childhood education for 22 years, serving as director of Trinity Lutheran Early Childhood Center for 14 of those years. She is also a lead coach for the Rooted In Relationships program through the Fremont Family Coalition, and one of Katie the Comfort Dog’s handlers.

During her speech, Gilfry shared some of her own personal experiences with reading as well as told everyone in the room about the importance of reading aloud to young children.

“I have to be honest with you, I was never a reader growing up,” she said. “Because I couldn’t say my Rs growing up, I never wanted to be called on as a reader.”

Although Gilfry did not like reading as a child, after reading to her own children and to children she has worked with as an early childhood educator, she quickly learned to love it as an adult.

“I love reading to children and the reason why is there is no judgment. They love our time together,” she said. “Whatever background you are from, you can pick up a book and read, and you don’t have to be an expert in early childhood or early literacy. All you need to do is encourage a love for books and read to a child.”

“Hats Off To Literacy” also provided an opportunity to recognize community members and organizations that support early childhood learning and reading through the Literacy Champion Awards.

This year’s recipients included local children’s author Julia Cook and in-home early learning program Sixpence.

While accepting the award, Cook gave a few words about why reading to children and teaching children to read is so important for their growth and development as people.

“If you want to get into a kid’s head, you have to enter into their view of the world,” she said. “The trick to doing that is to read them a story that has really good tools in it and the book goes into their brain and the tools spill off. Then you pull the book out of their brain and they have the tools inside to make their own good decisions.”

Those who could not attend the luncheon and who would like to contribute to the Imagination Library can do so by contacting the Fremont Area United Way offices at 402-721-4157.

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