NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Oh, the places they'll go!
Kids across the Peninsula are expanding their imaginations, thanks to the DeGood Foundation.
"You can go out there and achieve your dreams and make whatever you want happen. And that's at the absolute foundation of all things books and literature and literacy," said Executive Director Kyle DeGood.
The nonprofit, a local affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, mails free books each month to kids up to age five.
"The early years for children ages zero to five, that's where most neurological connections are made in the brain," he said.
"The more you're reading, the more words you're exposed to, and the more literature that you're exposed to, the more your brain grows and increases."
"For us, books were incredibly important to not replace the work of the libraries or the schools," DeGood said.
"But to enhance it, to give them another avenue they can receive books."
DeGood first learned of the Imagination Library while living in Hawaii.
"It was the greatest thing to watch all these kids run to the mailbox once a month," he explained. "[Be]cause they knew Dolly's book was there for them."
He founded The DeGood Foundation in 2017 to address children's mental health and literacy issues right here at home. So far, the nonprofit has mailed out more than 25,000 books, which averages out to 1,500 a month.
"They're custom-printed, custom-made. They come with reading tips in the covers. They have the logo on it. Sometimes, they get a letter from Dolly," DeGood said.
"t's a whole, amazing thing where every, tiny detail was picked to make this extra-special for each child. "
The nonprofit also focuses on kids' care. The Bags of Hope program provides care kits to sick children in partnership with hospitals like CHKD, where the group has delivered more than 250 kits to-date.
"There's this teddy bear that's poking its head out... There's also reading books, coloring books, toys, a hand-written note from volunteers," he said.
"They still have something that they can focus on but also something that they can take home with them."
DeGood said the foundation promotes the message that children are the future, and that they can change the world.
"We want to inspire children to dream more, learn more, care more, and be more," said DeGood. "Get it right when they're young, so that way you're not fixing them later when they're stuck."
Kids ages 5 and under on the Peninsula can sign up to get monthly books for free on The DeGood Foundation's website. You can also partner, volunteer, or donate.
If you don't live on the Peninsula, visit the Imagination Library's website to check availability in your area.