Conyers to Serve as Governor's Foundation President, Lead Statewide Imagination Library Efforts

Friday, January 09, 2009 | 8:51am

NASHVILLE - The board of directors for the non-profit Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation® has named Jeff Conyers to succeed Lady A. Bird as GBBF president. Effective Feb. 2, Conyers will lead efforts to strengthen and sustain Tennessee’s statewide Imagination Library – Dolly Parton’s successful early childhood reading initiative.

“I’m confident that Jeff Conyers will build on the remarkable progress in registration and fund-raising for the Imagination Library achieved by Lady Bird and her staff, putting Tennessee on the right track to achieve long-term stability for a program that provides tremendous educational advantages for young children,” said Governor Phil Bredesen, who established the foundation in 2004. “Jeff has the enthusiasm, drive, intellect and community contacts to ensure the program continues to thrive and will always be available to our state’s youngest citizens.”
 
Conyers will be charged with developing strategies for promoting and sustaining the statewide Imagination Library, providing children under age five with access to books to help them develop a relationship with books and reading as preparation for formal education. He will help to establish stable, ongoing support for the program in communities throughout the state, raise funds to support distressed counties, and oversee strategy for assisting Tennessee’s 92 sponsoring organizations, which serve all 95 counties, in the areas of fund-raising and enrollment.
 
“It is truly an honor to take on such an important role in support of the first – and, as yet, only – statewide Imagination Library,” said Conyers. “I’m well aware that I am joining a broad-based grassroots effort. This program is maintained almost entirely by generous volunteers and donors who give of their time and money because they believe so very strongly that promoting literacy and a love of books among our state’s young people will provide our future workforce with far greater opportunities for success.”
 
Created by Dolly Parton in 1996, the Imagination Library mails a new, age-appropriate, hardcover book to registered children, every month from birth until age five – at no cost to the family and regardless of income. Established by Bredesen in 2004, the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation serves Imagination Library grassroots organizers by providing fund-raising, public relations, and other support. 
 
Conyers previously served Bredesen for five years coordinating travel and advance for the governor across the state. This experience allowed him to develop a broad and geographically-diverse network of contacts, including ties to key community leaders across Tennessee. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
 
Conyers replaces Lady A. Bird, the foundation’s president of five years, who is retiring at the end of January. Bird led the effort to take Dolly’s Imagination Library to all 95 Tennessee counties, effectively creating a free library of up to 60 books available to every child under age five, in just two short years. Also under Bird’s leadership, the foundation raised over $1.68 million in pledges and monies from corporate donors – preserving availability of the Imagination Library statewide by supporting 12 disadvantaged counties’ programs, and to cover the purchase of complete Imagination Library 60-book sets for every Voluntary Pre-K for All and Head Start classroom in the state (nearly 1,700 classrooms). Additionally, the GBBF has raised nearly $1.3 million for individual counties’ Imagination Library programs, toward their half of monthly book orders, since 2004.
 
From the implementation of the statewide expansion to the ongoing oversight of 92 sponsoring organizations’ progress on registration and fundraising, the GBBF has maintained Imagination Library program operations with the same number of staff and held the portion of its budget allocated to administrative overhead to 7.75 percent. The Center for Non-Profit Management affirms that a 7.75 percent administrative budget is excellent, based on the benchmark of 15 percent or below widely accepted among standards for best practices in the not-for-profit sector. 
 
Any child under age five living in Tennessee can be registered for the Imagination Library. The cost of purchasing and delivering books – just $28 per child, per year – is split evenly between a non-profit sponsoring organization in every Tennessee county, and state funds administered by the GBBF. 
 
Fifty-four percent of the state’s total eligible population – just over 204,000 children – is currently registered in the Imagination Library. With over 109,000 five-year-olds having already “graduated,” Tennessee’s statewide program has served more than 313,000 children and delivered over 6.5 million books since 2004.
 
To learn more about your county’s Imagination Library program, or for information how to register an eligible child, visit www.GovernorsFoundation.org, or call toll-free, 1-877-99-BOOKS.

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