Dollywood Foundation

US non-profit organization
  • United States

The Dollywood Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Dolly Parton, with headquarters in Sevierville, Tennessee (as of 2022). Shortly after the opening of the Dollywood theme park in 1986, the Dollywood Foundation was created in April 1988, and began by offering scholarships to local high school students.[1] From there it grew into the Imagination Library, started in 1995, which distributes free books to children monthly, up until the age of 5.[2] The Dollywood Foundation grew again into the My People Fund, which started in 2016 after wildfires ripped through Tennessee.[3] The current President of the Dollywood Company is Craig Ross. Today, the foundation continues to grant scholarships and awards, and provides support to numerous non-profit organizations that aim to improve the quality of life of children and others in need.[4]

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

The Imagination Library is a free children's book gifting program started by Dolly Parton in 1995. It is based at her Dollywood theme park near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.[5] The program started by offering every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, the area where Parton was born and raised, a free age-appropriate book each month in the mail until the age of five, regardless of family income. In 2000, the Imagination Library became so popular that Dolly announced that she wanted to make the program available to any community that would partner with her and support it locally. The program has since expanded to over 1,800 local communities in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.[2] The program can be implemented in other communities by private or public non-profit organizations, and the Foundation is responsible for the distribution of books in those participating communities and the database that manages the children's information. In 2018, Parton celebrated the delivery of the 100 millionth book since the inception of the program. The Library of Congress hosted an event in February 2018 commemorating the milestone with Parton holding a Story Time to children attending the event. The Imagination Library program currently sends roughly 1.3 million books to children every month. As of 2021, at least 1.7 million children in the U.S. were enrolled, with a net monthly increase of 20,000 to 30,000 children. The program has drastically improved literacy for the children enrolled.[2][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

My People Fund

In November 2016, two teenage boys were charged with setting a fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, known as the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, which killed fourteen people, including two children, and burned down thousands of homes and businesses.[13] Charges against the two juvenile suspects were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.[14] Dolly gathered her Dollywood companies (Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure, Pirates Voyage, The Dollywood Company) and to establish the ‘My People Fund’[15] which ultimately donated $1,000 per month to Sevier County households who lost their homes in the fire. Those collecting charitable donations from the Dollywood Foundation could collect their funds for up to six months.[16] Significant donors to the fund include Verizon, Tanger Outlets, Miley CyrusHappy Hippie Foundation, CoreCivic and The Blalock Company.[17] The My People Fund raised over $9 million and assisted more than 900 families.[18]

Scholarships and awards

Having graduated from Sevier County High School in 1964, Dolly Parton launched The Dollywood Foundation in 1988 with the initial intention of raising scholarship funds for local high school students.[19] The Dolly Parton Scholarship was first offered in August 2000. The scholarship would grant a total of $15,000 to four students. With further sponsorship, the scholarship was later offered to four additional high schools including Seymour, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg-Pittman.[20]

When the Imagination Library reached its 100-million total book distribution mark, Dolly Parton announced she would be awarding a scholarship to a participant in the library’s program. In November 2016, Parton granted a $30,000 scholarship to a two-year-old girl, one of the library’s newest participants. The little girl was announced as the winner during the Pure & Simple Tour stop in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The money was placed in an account that will hold the money until the girl enrolls in college. The scholarship, after the 16-year wait, will amount to nearly $50,000.[21]

The Chasing Rainbows Award was created by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) in Parton's name. First presented to Dolly in 2002, the award is now given annually to a deserving teacher who has overcome hardship. The Imagination Library has since partnered with the NNSTOY.[22]


By 2006 the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library had spread to 471 communities in 41 states.[23] The overall rating of the organization was given 4 out of 4 stars by Charity Navigator.[24] The foundation later spread to the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Australia and Canada. The program helps about 1 million children each month. It is broken down into 6 groups that give recommendations on books depending on when the child was born.[23]

On April 30, 1988, at Dollywood, Dolly Parton launched the "Buddy Program", where 7th and 8th grade junior high school students in Sevier County picked one friend to sign a contract with agreeing that both pupils would help each other to stay in school and graduate high school. Upon graduation, each of them would receive $500. In the spring of 1992, the first class of graduating buddies each received their $500, with former Tennessee Governor and then U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in attendance. In spring 1993, the second class of graduating buddies each received their $500, with then Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter in attendance. The Buddy Program caused the drop-out rate to go down to 6% and kick started her community into creating initiatives to keep kids in school. The foundation also gives out scholarships. Awards are made in the following areas: music, academics, and the environment.[25]


  1. ^ "Dolly Parton forms The Dollywood Foundation". Official Dolly Parton. 1988-04-03. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  2. ^ a b c "Dolly Parton's Imagination Library - USA, UK, CA, AU". Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  3. ^ "Donate to the "My People Fund"". Official Dolly Parton. 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  4. ^ "Community Relations Support Policy". Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  5. ^ "Welcome to the official, historical archive of Dolly Parton". Official Dolly Parton. 2015-06-17. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  6. ^ Szumlas, Gregory A.; Petronio, Peter; Mitchell, Monica J.; Johnson, Alisha J.; Henry, Tiana R.; DeWitt, Thomas G. (June 2021). "A Combined Reach Out and Read and Imagination Library Program on Kindergarten Readiness". Pediatrics. 147 (6): e2020027581. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-027581. ISSN 0031-4005. PMID 34031233.
  7. ^ Waldron, Chad H. (2018-10-03). ""Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More": The Imagination Library Influencing Storybook Reading and Early Literacy". Reading Psychology. 39 (7): 711–728. doi:10.1080/02702711.2018.1536094. ISSN 0270-2711. S2CID 149970504.
  8. ^ Ridzi, Frank; Sylvia, Monica; Qiao, Xiaofen; Craig, Jeff (March 2017). "The Imagination Library Program and Kindergarten Readiness: Evaluating the Impact of Monthly Book Distribution". Journal of Applied Social Science. 11 (1): 11–24. doi:10.1177/1936724416678023. ISSN 1936-7244. S2CID 151468943.
  9. ^ Ridzi, Frank; Sylvia, Monica R.; Singh, Sunita (2014-08-18). "The Imagination Library Program: Increasing Parental Reading Through Book Distribution". Reading Psychology. 35 (6): 548–576. doi:10.1080/02702711.2013.790324. ISSN 0270-2711. S2CID 143814657.
  10. ^ Conyers, Jeff (2012-06-21). "My Very Own Imagination Library". Childhood Education. 88 (4): 221–225. doi:10.1080/00094056.2012.699850. ISSN 0009-4056. S2CID 144968319.
  11. ^ Samiei, Shahin; Bush, Andrew J.; Sell, Marie; Imig, Doug (2016-05-18). "Examining the Association Between the Imagination Library Early Childhood Literacy Program and Kindergarten Readiness". Reading Psychology. 37 (4): 601–626. doi:10.1080/02702711.2015.1072610. ISSN 0270-2711. S2CID 146413270.
  12. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (2021-03-08). "Turning Pages: Inside Dolly Parton's Imagination Library". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  13. ^ "Sources: Teens toying with matches started Tennessee wildfire". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  14. ^ Eric Levenson and Tina Burnside (2017-06-30). "Charges dropped against youths accused in Gatlinburg wildfires". CNN Digital. Retrieved 2020-12-30.
  15. ^ Foundation, Dollywood (2016-11-30). "Home | My People Fund". Dollywood Foundation. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  16. ^ "Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation donating to fire-displaced families". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  17. ^ "Dollywood Foundation Announces Details for My People Fund". 2016-12-02. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  18. ^ "Dolly Parton's My People Fund Serves Nearly 900 Families | Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News". Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  19. ^ "Dolly Parton forms The Dollywood Foundation". Official Dolly Parton. 1988-04-03. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  20. ^ "ARTS-CULTURE - Dolly Parton gives scholarships to high school students". Hürriyet Daily News | LEADING NEWS SOURCE FOR TURKEY AND THE REGION. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  21. ^ "Dolly Parton Offers College Scholarship to Two-Year-Old Girl". Taste of Country. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  22. ^ "Chasing Rainbows Award - National Network of State Teachers". Official Dolly Parton. 2002-05-05. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  23. ^ a b Greene, Peter (2014-08-12). "Dolly Parton. Really". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  24. ^ "Charity Navigator - Rating for Dollywood Foundation". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  25. ^ "CHAPTER 8 TENNESSEE SCHOLARSHIPS" (PDF). JRoan. 2017-02-28. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-02-08.

External links

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  • The Imagination Library
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