Updated: February 28, 2014 at 8:30 pm
The world got a little bigger Friday for little ones in the Pikes Peak region.
The local Dolly Parton Imagination Library has become a program of Pikes Peak United Way, opening the magical lives of Corduroy the teddy bear, Ferdinand the bull and Little Miss Muffet to all families with youngsters.
"It's pretty exciting," said Paula Munger, library director. "We'll be able to get books in the homes of all young children so they're better prepared for school and achieve better test scores at the third-grade level."
Under the program, all newborns to 5-year-olds in El Paso and Teller counties - some 25,000 children according to U.S. Census Bureau figures - are eligible to receive one free, age-appropriate book every month.
The books, many with familiar titles, such as "The Little Engine That Could" and "Madeline," are delivered to the children's home address from the Tennessee-based Dollywood Foundation, which oversees Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.
The popular country-and-western singer started the free book distribution program in 1996 in her home state. It has since spread nationwide to 1,600 communities, with more than 705,000 children registered for the program.
Munger opened a local affiliate out of her home in Colorado Springs in the spring of 2012. Since then, 2,450 local children have registered for the service.
"It's a really simple concept that helps greatly to develop early childhood literacy," she said.
Until now, it's been limited to children from low-income families, primarily in Colorado Springs School District 11 and Harrison School District 2. But coming under the umbrella of Pikes Peak United Way has removed any restrictions, so it is open to all children in El Paso and Teller counties, Munger said.
The library has become one of three programs the local United Way operates. The others are the 2-1-1 referral service for community resources and a homeless management information system.
The library is a sensible addition to the organization's "Success by Six" initiative, said Carrie Cramm, Pikes Peak United Way's vice president of community impact. The initiative supports early literacy education with home visitations and workshops.
"The library is a very tangible program that could have a tremendous impact on learning and early literacy in our community," Cramm said.
Munger has moved her office to the United Way headquarters on North Nevada Avenue and will work on increasing financial support and getting the word out through day care centers and schools, public libraries and hospitals.
A $30 donation funds one year's worth of free books for a child, she said.
Cramm calls the charitable project "one of the most moving opportunities people have to support providing books to children and families."
To register a child for the program, call Munger at 457-1316.