LAKE COUNTY — Parents of newborn children in Lake County may now register to receive free books in the mail.

Michigan Friends of Education (MFE) is helping bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to local newborns. Each newborn enrolled in the program will receive one new, age-appropriate book, every month until they reach age 5.

Parents of infants born in 2013 may contact MFE for a registration form. Also, mothers who have passed their first trimester of pregnancy also may call to be added to a special waiting list to enroll once their baby is born.

There are no family income qualifications to enroll in the MFE Lake County Imagination Library. Donations from families are always welcome; however, participation in the program is completely free. MFE will serve all of Lake County, with one exception. Children residing in the 49656 zip code are being served by the Wexford-Missaukee Imagination Library.

“Our purpose for this new program is to improve early childhood literacy in Lake County,” said Menachem Kniespeck, CEO of Michigan Friends of Education. “By working with the Dollywood Foundation, our goal is to give one book per month to each newborn child enrolled in the program.”

The experiences of thousands of families, as well as research in child development, affirm the benefits of early learning experiences for children. Research shows that activities such as reading regularly with children, beginning in infancy, can produce a significant growth in I.Q., which lasts a child’s lifetime. Parents are the first and most important teachers their children will ever have.

“I hope that every family in Lake County will experience the joy and wonder of their children’s imaginations as they learn about the world and it’s many surprises,” Parton said in a release. “If we can help turn the dreams of a child into the promise of a bright future, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.”

The Dollywood Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation founded in 1988 by Dolly Parton to support educational projects and improve the quality of life in Dolly’s native Sevier County, Tennessee. The mission of the foundation is to share the life and legacy of Dolly Parton as an inspiration for children to “Dream More ... Learn More ... Care More ... and Be More.”

The Imagination Library is a 60-volume home library for preschool children. It was created to stimulate children’s imaginations and encourage reading within the family at an early age. A panel of child educators selects the books for the library each year, always beginning the series with a special copy of “The Little Engine That Could”.

In December of 1999, Dolly announced that she would extend the opportunity to communities to replicate The Imagination Library in their own area. While each community must financially support its own effort, the foundation will provide technical assistance in setting up the program, assist with public relations and marketing materials, work with Dolly on national/international promotional efforts, and convene the growing network to inspire, share and innovate. The foundation will also manage the composition of the library and coordinate the ordering and mailing of the books to maximize cost effectiveness.

“By working with the Dollywood Foundation, our organization can implement this program for only $30 per child enrolled per year,” Kniespeck said. “That’s only $2.50 per child per month for the book, the mailing of the book, and our nominal administrative costs to make this awesome, free program available.”

The organization is continuing to raise funds to expand enrollment to all children in Lake County under the age of 5. All funding for this program comes from individuals, businesses or community/church groups.

Besides the new Lake County Imagination Library, MFE offers other educational programs and services for Lake County families. The organization hopes to play an active role in helping break the cycle of poverty by putting programs in place to improve reading proficiency, literacy and graduation rates for students across the county.

MFE also is now working closely with the Mason and Lake County McKinney-Vento coordinator to assist with providing hygiene items, books and school supplies for identified homeless students in the two counties.

With a potential eligible coverage area population of 741,000 children in Michigan, MFE envisions a community where every child feels valued and has the tools and support needed to become a literate, self-supporting adult, capable of sharing his or her unique gifts with the world.

For more information about MFE, the new MFE Lake County Imagination Library program, or to make a tax-deductible donation, contact Michigan Friends of Education at (586) 649-7161.