DEARBORN, Mich. — “Maybe one of our future mayors is a 4-year-old who reads ‘The Three Little Pigs’ and thinks to herself that the Big Bad Wolf would be an amazing code enforcement officer,” Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammound said, announcing a new partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library on Tuesday.
“The important thing is to imagine,” he said. “We should never underestimate the power of literacy as a great equalizer.”
The city of Dearborn and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library announced a team up with the Amity Foundation to provide free books to Dearborn children from birth to age 5.
Hammoud said he started working on this project about four years ago while he was still a state representative.
“These books are fuel for burning curiosities, fuel for imaginations that will lead to better grades, higher lifetime earnings, and healthier, more meaningful lives,” he said.
The program will provide one book a month, per child through the age of 5, at no cost as long as they live in Dearborn. A child signing up at birth has the potential of amassing a free home library with 60 books.
“We’re proud to serve as a local champion of the Imagination Library because we know it will transform lives, and that’s what our work at the Amity Foundation is all about,” said Amity Foundation Co-Founder Danielle Elzayat. “As a local champion, the Amity Foundation will help administer the program operations, ensuring families receive books in a timely and efficient manner and working with the city administration to promote and facilitate resident participation.”
The announcement took place in the children’s section of the flagship Henry Ford Centennial Library and featured Dearborn Youth Services Supervisor Susan Jelic.
“It is vital to provide opportunities for the youth of our community to read, write, sing, talk, and play their way to literacy; these are the five practices of the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read program,” she said. “That’s what this initiative does.”
Hammoud, who opened the program, was flanked by a life-size cutout of Parton, who could not attend in person. A video from her was played at the end of the presentation.
“I knew we had a small window of opportunity to make a generational difference,” Hammoud said. “I felt strongly that we needed to deliver on something that would outlast, not only my tenure, but also my lifetime. Today, I can finally say that we have done that.”
He said that more than $2.8 million has been put into an endowment to ensure the program lasts for generations to come.
“This program is also a critical policy intervention for a critical time,” Hammoud said, citing the proportion of Michigan third graders reading below grade level.
He said the program gives children “60 unique opportunities for language-rich interactions.”
Amad Elzayat, the other co-founder of the Amity Foundation, also was pleased by the work they all put in to get the program started.
“We worked tirelessly with Mayor Hammoud and the Dollywood Foundation to turn this ambitious idea into reality, and we’re proud to play a role in putting books in the hands of families in every corner of Dearborn,” he said.
The Amity Foundation started when Amad Elzayat was volunteering on a field trip.
He noticed one of the students needed better shoes. Elzayat ran out and bought a new pair for her. He contacted the school and made an anonymous donation.
That same year, he wanted to encourage friends and family, especially his daughters — Medina, MiMi and Mariam — to give back to their community, so he and his wife, Danielle Elzayat, organized a Ramadan food drive where they would feed a family a day for the 30 nights of Iftar (breaking fast). That initiative now feeds thousands of families every Ramadan.
The mission of the foundation promotes the idea that everyone, regardless of race, color or creed, deserves a chance to have the basic necessities of life. The biggest vision of the foundation is to encourage the youth in the community to give back and serve those around them in need.
Residents who wish to order books should visit imaginationlibrary.com and enter their ZIP code. Once a ZIP code is selected, users will be prompted to enter basic information to determine eligibility.