Nancy Blaue met her husband, Adam, when she was 14 years old. He claims it was love at first sight, but Nancy’s not so sure. Nevertheless, the two got married just months after she graduated from high school in the early 1990s. Due to some medical issues, the couple were advised to have children early on. The two became parents at what most would consider a very young age, but their family was soon complete with two daughters and a son.
Adam and Nancy live on a farm in northern Montgomery County, Missouri, where they raised their children. Their two daughters, Katie and Libby, are now married and both are expecting babies. Will, their son, will graduate from Wellsville-Middletown R-1 High School in just a few weeks.
If you’ve ever met Nancy, you know she is not only dedicated to her own family, but she also cares about the families surrounding her. Nearly everything she does is focused on serving families of all shapes and sizes in her community.
Educating Parents About Literacy
For nearly 20 years Nancy has worked for Parents as Teachers in Montgomery County as a Parent Educator. Parents as Teachers is a home visiting program for parents of children from birth to age five that provides family support and education.
Unlike other family support agencies, like Head Start, there is no income limit for families helped by PAT (though there is a limit to how many families they can serve that aren’t low income). Nancy is glad the program accepts families from all income brackets. “Not all low income families are awful parents,” she says. “I also feel like there’s a lot of families that are very well off that could really use some parent education.”
Some of the families are single parent homes, in other families someone has a disability, still others are transient families, and some are in the court system. “A lot of our families do have some things that are going on,” she says, “but a lot of them don’t. A lot of them are just nice, average families.”
Families find the organization mostly through word of mouth. Sometimes the school will refer someone, other times it’s court mandated, the county health department gives families information about the program, and on occasion Nancy will simply hear of someone that could use their services and contact them. They also hold a group meeting once a month that is open to anyone in the community. Many new families often attend and are then interested in joining the program.
“Recruitment is probably the number one challenge we have,” Nancy says. “It’s just hard. Because it’s not for everybody. It’s hard to invite somebody into your home. So we kind of have to talk our way in. But almost always, once I’ve talked my way in, they want me to come back. We play with kids. It’s toys and books on the floor.
“But sometimes the families that are very at-risk are very hesitant. I recently had one that had an open case with the Family Support Division, and she was not interested in me coming, and I don’t blame her. She’s scared. They don’t want one more pair of eyes looking at them.” However, it’s obvious from hearing Nancy speak about it that she will do what she can to get that family on board.
Parents as Teachers delivers many types of education to families, but one of the things Nancy is most passionate about is their literacy efforts. Nancy says,
“I walk into homes for my job, more now than ever before, and I see there’s nothing written in the homes. There’s no newspapers. There’s no magazines. There’s no books. There’s nothing. There’s phones and there’s TVs.”
So when Nancy visits homes, she reads books with the kids each time. She also gives parents literature about how to read to kids, and she teaches them techniques. In addition, she encourages parents to read to their kids every day.
“I always say, ‘You want your kids to be more than book report readers in school. That starts at a very young age, so the more you read with your babies and they associate that with warm feelings and a pleasant time, the more they’ll really enjoy books later on.'”
PAT hosts group meetings focused on books, and they sponsor story hours at both of the public libraries in Montgomery County. Perhaps the most impactful thing they do is help families create their own personal libraries. They’re able to do this by signing up everyone in their caseload to receive free books through their local affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Providing Free Books Through the Imagination Library
If you’re not familiar with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, it’s an organization that provides one free book a month to kids from birth through the month of their fifth birthday. All parents have to do is sign up, but their area must have a local affiliate in order for them to receive the books.
The Montgomery County Imagination Library was just the third affiliate in the state of Missouri when they formed in 2001. One of Nancy’s co-workers first read about the program in the Parade Magazine insert of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She thought it sounded like a great opportunity and recruited Nancy to help get an affiliate started in Montgomery County.
They contacted Pam Hunsacker, the library’s regional director based in Columbia, MO, to find out what they needed to do. Pam walked them through the process of starting their affiliate via their local reading council.
The first thing they had to do was decide what their area would be. They could choose one of the towns in the county, they could pick one of the two school districts based in the county, or they could go with the entire county. Obviously, the bigger the area, the more money they would need to raise, but ultimately, the founding group chose the whole county, in order to not leave any kids out.
The next step was fundraising. Each local affiliate is responsible for funding themselves. Some affiliates are fortunate to have a large company in their area that funds the entire program. Montgomery County is not one of those places. Instead, they rely on a few grants as well as donations from individuals. They host several fundraising events each year, and they ask people to pledge a donation for five years.
“The community supports us. We’ve never been hurting for money. We’ve always been very blessed.”
They were also blessed because they didn’t have to form their own 501(c)(3). Instead, all of their funding is funneled through the University of Missouri Extension office in Montgomery County. The Imagination Library sends invoices directly to the extension office, who write the checks.
After spending a year raising the initial funds, the new affiliate was ready to begin ordering books. The Dollywood Foundation provides technical support to the affiliates for ordering the books. Someone inputs the data into the website, and then the national organization takes care of shipping the books directly to the children’s homes. The affiliates never actually see the books, though Nancy gets to see them when she visits homes for her job with PAT.
The first book a child receives is The Little Engine That Could, which is a very special book to Dolly Parton. It’s a customized version that includes a message from Dolly inside the front cover. The last book a child gets is focused on getting ready for kindergarten.
The Imagination Library currently has a partnership with Penguin Random House. The publishing giant does special print runs of all the books, which include additional instructions or ideas for how families can extend the book, activities parents can do with kids, or different reading techniques they can use.
The books change from time to time. Nancy is often sad to see some favorites cycle off the list, but then she gets to enjoy some new ones. She loves being able to read them to kids on her home visits.
Even if Nancy hadn’t said she’s passionate about early childhood literacy, it’s obvious by the way she talks about it and her efforts to get books into the hands of the children of Montgomery County. There’s no doubt she deeply cares about the families she works with, and she wants their children to be as successful as possible.
How You Can Get Involved with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
- If you would like more information on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, you can find it on the national website: ImaginationLibrary.com. (FYI, in addition to the USA, the Imagination Library is also available in Canada, Australia, and the UK. Click the country name to go to those sites.) If you’d like to connect with Nancy, go to the Contact page on this website, and specify in your message that you’d like to be put in touch with her.
- To find out if your area has an affiliate, you can click here to use the USA affiliation locator. You can find other countries’ locators on their individual web pages.
- Parents can register their children online, by mail, or via their local affiliate. But remember, you can only receive books if your address is in the designated area served by an affiliate.
- If you discover that your area doesn’t have an affiliate, consider starting one! You can find out how to start a program in any of the four countries here.
- Contact your local affiliate to find out how to volunteer or donate. If the affiliate is already fully funded, you can donate here via the national organization’s website.