‘A national treasure’: Dolly Parton honored with 2022 Friend of Education Award

Dolly Parton was the recipient of the 2022 Friend of Education Award due to her dedication to childhood literacy through her Imagination Library.
Dolly Parton performs at Austin City Limits Live during Blockchain Creative Labs' Dollyverse...
Dolly Parton performs at Austin City Limits Live during Blockchain Creative Labs' Dollyverse event during the South by Southwest Music Festival on March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Parton is donating $1 million to pediatric infectious disease research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, the organization announced on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. The new gift is one of several Parton has made to the center over the years, including a $1 million gift in April 2020 for COVID vaccine research.(Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)
Published: Jul. 9, 2022 at 1:53 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Dolly Parton has added another accolade to her name after being honored with the National Education Association’s highest award for her dedication to early childhood literacy.

The “singer, songwriter and unifier” received the NEA’s 2022 Friend of Education Award, which was announced at the organization’s Annual Representative Assembly in Chicago. Besides bringing millions of people together from all walks of life, the superstar has given books to millions of children since 1995 through the Imagination Library.

“Dolly Parton is a national treasure, and America’s educators are proud to bestow NEA’s highest honor, the ‘Friend of Education’ award, upon her,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “In addition to bringing incalculable joy, with a smile like a breath of spring and a soft voice like summer rain, to fans across the world, she has championed literacy, learning, and diversity in literature for nearly half a century. In distributing more than 2 million books each month, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has poured a cup of ambition for millions of young children. She knows that in tough times we rely on each other, as demonstrated by her support for wildlife conservation, wildfire relief, and her contribution toward COVID-19 vaccine development, which has saved millions of lives worldwide. Educators will always love Dolly, and I am personally honored to name her 2022′s “Friend of Education.”

One teacher from a rural part of Minnesota spoke to the NEA, expressing appreciation for the philanthropist from Tennessee.

“There are no libraries here,” John Gibeau told the organization. “It’s an educational desert....Without Imagination Library, kids aren’t going to get books. It’s changing lives, and there are not enough thank you’s in the world for Dolly Parton.”

After winning the award, Parton said it was a “special honor” but also took a moment to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of educators who work with students across the nation.

She explained that her motivation to start the library, which now gifts over two million books per month, was in honor of her father, who never learned to read or write.

“He saw the program really growing and told me he was prouder of that than of just about anything else I’d ever done,” said Parton to the NEA.

Parton explained her additional efforts to contribute to education as a whole, such as gifting scholarships and paying for tuition.

“I’m working to do my part as well,” Parton said in a video to the NEA. “My foundation offers college scholarships for local high school students and my theme park Dollywood is covering college tuition and expenses for employees.”

The Friend of Education Award honors a person or organization whose leadership and acts of support have significantly contributed to the development of American public education.

The video released from the NEA can be found below:

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