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United Way’s reading initiative surpasses 1,000 mark


United Way of North Central Massachusetts has signed up over 1,000 children through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Reading First, a literacy coalition in North Central Massachusetts, which provides free books to Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Templeton and Winchendon children.    

Children under the age of 5 are eligible for sign-up, regardless of household income, according to Kathy Heintz, director of community impact at United Way of North Central Massachusetts.  Once signed up, the child will receive an age-appropriate book each month until his/her 5th birthday. 

When the program was launched late last fall, it was only available to households in Fitchburg and Leominster. Heintz said the program was quickly expanded to include Gardner, Templeton and Winchendon as additional corporate supporters came onboard.

“What is amazing is how generous our corporate partners have been. It is very unusual to have companies calling you to become a supporter,” said Heintz. “Studies show that by increasing kindergarten readiness, through expanding the number of books being read to small children, it makes an important difference in school performance and ultimately graduation rates.”

The impetus for the program is a national statistic that shows that in the average middle-income home, there are 13 age-appropriate books per child, on average — versus one book per 300 children in low-income homes.  

Reading First relies on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to distribute by mail a brand new book to enrolled children every month until five years of age, creating a home library of up to 60 books. Some of the popular titles include “The Little Engine That Could” and “Green Eggs and Ham”.

Families can sign up for the program by completing a registration form, which the Reading First community partners have on hand.  They can be found at Children’s Aid and Family Services, Montachusett Community Branch YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Fitchburg Library, House of Peace & Education, Winchendon Schools, Spanish American Center, Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, Montachusett Opportunity Council and at the United Way of North Central Massachusetts or sign-up online at United Way’s website,

The initiative is being supported by United Way of North Central Massachusetts and several local businesses, including IC Federal Credit Union, Simonds International, Bemis Associates, Fitchburg State University, Mount Wachusett Community College, Rollstone Bank, DRS Technologies, PJ Keating, Heywood Hospital Aid Association, Friends of Fitchburg Library, DataGuide Cable, Catalano Companies, several Rotary Clubs and HYPE, the young professionals group at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.

Continued support is needed to ensure the success of this program.  To find out more about helping out, contact  It costs only $30/year to support one child in the program.