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Destination Imagination active in Belmont County

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Members of Belmont County’s Project Imagination Library program meet last week to discuss upcoming projects, including a visit from Ohio first lady Fran DeWine at the start of 2022 and a donation from the St. Clairsville Rotary Club. The program provides free monthly books to children ages 0-5.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Project Imagination Library program was one of the many activities stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but committee members are picking up where several initiatives left off.

Wendy Anderson, director of the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce, was one of several attendees at the St. Clairsville Public Library.

“We have not been able to meet because of COVID, but we’re trying to get more people involved and signing up their children at birth to 5 years old,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to find supporters. We’re trying to get grants. We’re working with Fran DeWine, and we are going to meet next month to figure out when she could come and maybe speak to our Rotary.

“We’re trying to get more renewed enthusiasm for the program to continue in Belmont County,” she said. “It went really well. We have some ideas that we’re working on.”

Debbie Stanton, program officer with the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, said the county may soon have a visit from Ohio’s first lady.

“The Belmont County Imagination Library Program started last spring. Things did move very slowly and we didn’t have a typical launch like other county programs were able to have because of COVID. Fran DeWine (wife of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine) was scheduled to be here last spring, and everything got canceled,” Stanton said.

“Now that everybody’s more comfortable with masking, social distancing and the vaccines, we’re going to get that back onto (the) schedule and try to get something around the first of the year with Fran coming to town. We plan to have half a day of activities scheduled,” she said, adding DeWine might speak at a Rotary meeting or visit the St. Clairsville District Library and the commissioners.

THe goal is to “bring attention to this program again so we can drum up some families that would like to sign up and receive these free books, or have some sponsors and donors come to fruition and want to sponsor the program,” she said.

Stanton added that for a donation of $25, one child ages 0-5 will receive free books for one year.

“They get a free book once a month,” she said. “In the mail from the Dolly Parton imagination program. Mrs. DeWine, this is a passion of hers, she wanted to bring this program to every county in Ohio. She herself was babysitting her grandchildren and received a free book in the mail and wondered what it was about.”

Stanton said the Belmont County committee is made up of local stakeholders and interested parties who meet to administer the program, as well as receiving donations and enrolling families.

“The Ohio Governor’s office has committed to 50 percent of funding for the program through June 30, 2023. The other half is the responsibility of the counties to raise those funds to meet the other portion of the funds to carry out the program. Gulfport Energy has committed to a percentage as well, and they have funded the program for the past year, and I believe have committed to do so along with the governor’s budget through 2023.”

Stanton said about 34 percent of eligible Belmont County families are enrolled.

“We’d love to reach a 70-percent enrollment mark. We’d love to enroll more families. Right now our bill stands at around $2,500 a month, so you’re looking at $35,000 a year to run this program. We’re going to be in some serious trouble if our current funding sources dry up, so we are hoping to absolutely raise some funds.”

The enrollment fluctuates as children age out of program eligibility and others are born. Information is sent out to daycares, birthing centers, intervention centers and doctors’ offices. The program also works with schools.

“Early literacy is a key to academic success, so it’s very important that these children have access to books and someone to read to them,” she said. “It takes around $100 for four kids if anyone wants to sponsor at that level.”

St. Clairsville Rotary Club will be donating $4,000 and will be acknowledged when the books are mailed out.

“We would love to have volunteers. If anyone from Belmont County has a passion for this type of thing, we would love to have them join our committee,” Stanton said. “We need helpers, funding and enrollment.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 7 at the St. Clairsville Public Library.

Donations can be sent to the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley at 1226 Chapline St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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