United Way Partners with Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Offer Free Books to Children Ages 0-5.

United Way of Santa Barbara County reopens enrollment for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides free books for all local children ages 0-5.

For over a decade, United Way of Santa Barbara County has acted as the region’s local affiliate for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a free program for all families with children ages 0-5 to receive a free book delivered to their home each month until the child turns five. Thanks to new matching funding from the State of California, United Way has reopened the application portal to begin accepting new enrollments for the 2024 program year.


Governor Gavin Newsom announced the statewide expansion of the Imagination Library in June of 2023, following the passing of bipartisan bill SB 1183 (Grove), which was supported by representatives across the state. “The bill would establish the Statewide Imagination Library Program under the direction administration of the State Librarian for purposes of developing, implementing, promoting, and fostering a comprehensive statewide initiative for encouraging preschool children to develop a love of reading and learning.” (California, 2023) The bill would support contracts with local nonprofit facilitators of the program, like United Way, to provide dollar-for-dollar matching funds for enrolled children.


“As a proud co-author SB 1138, I look forward to seeing this state investment reach all California families, nurturing their curiosity, imagination, and literacy,” said CA Senator Monique Limón. “This state funding will allow families on the current waitlist in Santa Barbara County, to be part of this literacy opportunity.”


Locally, United Way has served over 3,800 children through the program, delivering over 146,000 books to households throughout Santa Barbara County. As a registered affiliate of the Imagination Library, United Way has funded each book distributed through the program, representing a continuation of its investment in early learning and literacy. As of 2023, new legislation at the state level provided new matching funding for the program, subsidizing 50% of the program costs for affiliates throughout the state. Thanks to this match, United Way anticipates increasing its target active enrollment to 1,200 children, with 562 already enrolled.


“You can never get enough books into the hands of enough children,” states Dolly Parton, founder of the program, “Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission. In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over one million children.”


The funding match and the subsequent relaunch of applications come as part of United Way’s countywide expansion of its Academic Achievement initiative, providing programs and services to hundreds of students throughout Santa Barbara County each year. In partnership with local school districts, United Way offers programs like the Fun in the Sun summer learning program and the United Learning Centers to support students and their families in reaching their academic goals. The Imagination Library is a key piece of United Way’s mission, helping families and caregivers instill a love of reading and learning during the essential early developmental years.


“The Imagination Library is an outstanding companion to United Way’s educational programs and our organization’s commitment to brighter futures for students,” stated Steve Ortiz, the organization’s president & CEO. “Building stronger academic foundations for these children will always start at home. It’s an honor to partner with the Imagination Library to make sure those homes have access to the tools they need to reach important milestones and foster a true love of learning that we know will have monumental impacts on children’s success in the classroom and beyond.”


Applications for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library for residents of Santa Barbara County are open now. All families with children ages 0-5 are invited to submit an application for enrollment. To request an application, or for general questions about the program, please contact United Way at or 805-882-0505.



Enrollment in the program is subject to capacity and available funding. Applicants who apply after capacity has been reached will be placed on a waitlist, which will cycle as children age out of the program. Additional program information can be found at




California, S. of. (2023, June 6). Governor Newsom announces statewide expansion of Dolly Parton’s imagination library to provide universal access to free books for young children. Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom.


About United Way of Santa Barbara County

Since 1923, United Way of Santa Barbara County has been a key leader in local efforts to empower children, families, and communities through its own unique collaborative programs and initiatives, partnership convening efforts, volunteer development, and funding. United Way’s mission is to enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery. To learn more, please visit

Leave a Response

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top