When runners take to the streets of Hernando each year for the Water Tower 10K, not only are they testing their speed and endurance, but they run to help Hernando children have a brighter future.
In October, the annual run raised a significant amount of money toward the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of books under the Excel By 5 umbrella, according to Hernando Community Development Director Gia Matheny.
“This year, we had over 380 participants in the run,” Matheny said last week. “They represented more than seven states and over 40 cities as well as one additional country. It is a practice run for the St. Jude Marathon. We have seen our race grow each year and this past year, we raised about $19,000.”
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a book-gifting program from the foundation set up by the legendary country music star. It started in her own east Tennessee county inspired by Parton’s father, who could not read or write. Today, the Library offers children under five a book a month until their fifth birthday. Over the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, more than 112 million books have been mailed.
But there’s a cost involved in getting the books to those involved, Matheny said, and the Water Tower 10K helps cover the cost for youngsters inside the Hernando city limits.
“This year we have over 300 children that are currently enrolled,” said Matheny. “Books cost about $2.50 a child to deliver a book and mail a book to each child. This year, the books cost over $14,000 to be able to provide those books to the children of Hernando. We just don’t have the funding to provide those books to children outside the city limits of Hernando.”
Matheny explained the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, as part of the city’s Excel By 5 program, is another way Hernando children are getting prepared to start kindergarten.
“Since Excel By 5 really started taking off, we continued with our health focus for the run, but we also made this a fundraiser for our Dolly Parton Imagination Library program for Excel By 5,” said Matheny. “Our program is set up as a nonprofit through the Community Foundation (of Northwest Mississippi) and all the proceeds that we make through the race go directly to that account. It goes directly to the books and the mailings for all the children that are in the program. The proceeds from the race go only to the book program.”
Hernando has been a certified Excel By 5 community since 2014. The Mississippi effort has worked to get youngsters a step ahead in getting prepared for kindergarten, and from there ahead through their school years into the workforce.
“It is a workforce development program because without childhood development you don’t have workforce development,” Matheny explained. “We have a health fair every year that is for children up to age 19. We offer free developmental screenings. We are really trying to work to increase those screenings for older children this coming year.”
With this year’s Water Tower 10K coming at a significant time for the event, Matheny looks forward to an even larger turnout to help fund more books, with 400 runners being an attainable goal.
“This coming year will be our 10th anniversary,” she said. “This year’s race will be on Oct. 12, the second Saturday in October, again at 8 a.m.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.