Rogers Makes Library Available for Kids

(Published with permission by the author)

By Amanda Wehnes,

From as long as he can remember, Arnold freshman Eli Rogers has loved Dolly Parton. Her music, her rags-to-riches story, and especially her philanthropy and giving heart. So when he decided to bring the opportunities of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) to Custer County children, it was an easy project for the community to get behind.

“It just looked like such a great program,” said Rogers. “I said ‘Heck!’ I can support Custer County and Dolly Parton!”

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a literary foundation that provides age-appropriate books at no cost to children ages 5 and younger in areas where there is a local sponsoring group. The foundation pays for half of the price of the books and postage for each child, and the local sponsoring group pays the other half. For $50 a year, children in a qualified area can receive 12 age-appropriate books each year, or one book a month. Through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, more than one million books are sent to children in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Rogers is a member of the Central Nebraska Interact Club, a Rotary organization for youth. He solicited the help of Interact sponsor Nicole Badgley and Rotary member Becky Dailey to get the ball rolling. His first task was to contact the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to start the application process for becoming a local sponsor group. 

Local sponsor groups need to have a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit status established or have an existing group partner with them, they must have a bank account and keep financial records, provide funds for the project, and provide the marketing and communications associated. It took quite a bit of persistence from Rogers to convince the Dolly Parton Imagination Library that a 15-year-old student could and would commit to this large of a project.

“Eli really wanted to get this set up for every little person in Custer county.  He was disappointed that Custer County was not on the list for parents to sign up their kids,” said Badgley. “He wanted our youngest kids to enjoy reading through the excitement of receiving a book every month to read with their parents.”

The next step to becoming a local sponsor group is to secure funding for the project. In order to be able to provide the opportunity for the free books for all children of Custer County, Rogers estimated he would need at least $5,000 for the first few years. The end goal for the project would be to raise $15,000 and be able to fund books for multiple years.

“I would like to raise enough money to give books to all the kids in Custer County,” said Rogers. “I don’t know if it will be in one year, three years, or more.”

Fundraising efforts for the project have been underway for more than a month and they’ve already raised about $5,000 – just short of their first goal. Just this week, the National Junior Honor Society at Arnold Schools held a fundraiser for the project with “Break The Rules Day” where staff and students were encouraged to break a rule at the school, such as teachers wearing shorts or students wearing hats in exchange for a donation. They raised more than $650 that day.

Seeing his project come to fruition has been fulfilling for Eli. 

“I always knew it would kick up and people would donate,” said Rogers. “We were prepared to have a limited signup, but we didn’t want to do that.”

There is a bit of paperwork left to complete for the Postal Service, but Rogers hopes to have the books available for Custer County in April or May.

Rogers knows he couldn’t have gotten this far with his project without the help of Dailey to set up the bank account and Badgley for “putting up with me.”

But Badgley says the credit all goes to Rogers. “I think people should know how hard Eli worked to get this set up,” she said.

Donations for the project can be sent to the Arnold Community Foundation, c/o Central NE Interact Club, 508 N Walnut St., Arnold, NE 69120 and include “Interact’s Dolly Project” or dropping them off at First State Insurance in Arnold. 

Donations can also be made online at and searching “Arnold Community Fund” and including the designation of “Imagination Library Fund” or the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website at and donate to the Custer County, Nebraska project.