“The Donna Helble Fund of the Winona Community Foundation has had an immensely positive impact on our organization since the onset of our partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. With nearly 1,000 active children and over 400 graduated children, we have seen over half of the county’s children under give participate.”
– Emily Tipton, Board Member at the Friends of Winona Public Library

The Friends of Winona Public Library received a $5,000 grant from the Donna Helble Fund in March 2022. This grant supported their partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Winona County. This program provides children (ages birth to five) in Winona County access to free, quality books while removing any financial or access barriers to create more reading opportunities. Each month, registered children are sent age-appropriate books every month at no cost to the families.

What is the Donna Helble Fund?

The Donna Helble Fund is a special interest fund for promoting literacy for the youth in Winona.

How did the Donna Helble Fund start?

Through a monetary gift left by a passionate educator and child literacy advocate will impact thousands of Winona County’s youngest residents, Donna Helble was known for her full and benevolent life. Although Donna is no longer with us, she created a legacy of generosity through her will and gave a gift to the Winona Community Foundation for the purpose of promoting childhood literacy. This makes sense for Donna who chaired the popular community wide “Reading in the Mall” event for 25 years.

This fund is a great example of legacy giving. Including a gift to the Winona Community Foundation in your will is a simple way to make a lasting gift to our community. We will establish a special fund that can benefit the community forever and becomes a personal legacy of giving.

How did this fund support youth literacy in Winona?

When the Friends of the Winona Public Library started their partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, they elected to set the boundary at Winona County. This means that any child in Winona County from birth to five is eligible to participate in our program regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status. The only requirements for participation in this program are location and age.

Since receiving their grant from the Donna Helble Fund, their partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has continued to grow. When they applied for the grant February of 2022, there were 884 registered children and 293 graduates. As of mid-September 2022, they report having 944 registered children and 410 graduates for a total growth of 177 children in 7 months. Additionally, they’ve been able to send 7,143 books into the homes of Winona County families. This level of participation was not expected until year four of the program or beyond. The community has demonstrated a passion for the program both in numbers of children participating and in fiscal donations.

“The Imagination Library has been such a blessing for our family! My three-year-old has loved every book she has received and looks forward to when her “mail” comes. Then the day it comes, that is the story we read for the week and talk about it. As a parent, I love the variety of books we have received- some classics such as “The Little Engine that Could” to some I have never heard of like “Hair Love”, one of our favorites so far!”
– Winona resident, Kellie Heath

“We feel blessed to have the opportunity to receive one book each month for our children. My son gets so excited when he receives his monthly book, he actually asks to check the mail each day so he won’t miss his book! We are a bilingual household and the books we received are bilingual. Other than the books we receive through this program, we have a difficult time finding bilingual and age-appropriate books for my children. Our children seeing books that represent both languages and cultures is priceless. We love that the baby books come as board books and toddler books come as easy to turn but hard to rip pages. We have been pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the stories and the physical books themselves. Some of the books we have received have helped us approach hard to discuss topics. Each book we have received has been loved and reread time and time again. These books have helped inspire family time and given us the gift of connection. We love this program and hope to support it in any way that we can.”
– Winona resident, Nichol Araya Espinoza

For the partnership between the Friends of Winona Public Library and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to continue, the organization reports the need to continue raising funds. If you’re interested in joining in their pursuit of literacy for all children, please visit winona.lib.mn.us.