Beards For Books!


John Severson
John Severson, United Way Board Chair, Superintendent

Help us put books in the hands of our local children by growing a beard & fundraising for the Dolly Parton's Imagination Library! 

  • Grow A Beard.

  • Set Up Your Fundraiser.

  • Collect Pledges.

  • Post Photo Updates.

  • Rock A Wicked Cool Beard.

  • Support Kids While Doing It.

The Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program serves over 6,000 children in our region. Each month a child receives a book in the mail for them and their parents to read. At $25 a child per year, this program can be very costly but it makes a huge difference in a child's life not only by learning more words but spending quality time with their family.

John Severson, United Way Board Chair & Superintendent at the MAISD came up with a challenge to help support this program. His cabinet challenged him to grow a beard for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and convince others to make a pledge towards the cause. Soon, he, Stuart Jones, and Randy Lindquist began growing beards and have already surpassed their goal with over $4,000 (that's 2,000 books)! Now they are reaching out to our community to ask you to join our Facebook Beards for Books Challenge!

Beards for Books Challenge Options

"Grow a Beard for Books"

Challenge your family, friends and co-workers to support United Way of the Lakeshore, March National Reading Month and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library by growing a beard from March 1st-31st, 2021. Set your fundraising goal and promote via Facebook fundraiser for @unitedwaylakeshore. Goal examples: $1,250 in gifts supports 50 kids for one year to each receive one book per month or 10 kids to receive one book per month from birth to 5 years old.

***Can’t grow a “full” beard in 1 month? That's okay! Market “Watch me look scruffy for the month to support kids”. 

"Shave your Beard for Books"

Challenge your family, friends, and co-workers to support United Way of the Lakeshore, March National Reading Month, and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library by shaving your incredible beard ONLY if your fundraising goal is met by March 31, 2021. Goal examples: $1,250 in gifts supports 50 kids for one year to each receive one book per month or 10 kids to receive one book per month from birth to 5 years old. 

How to Set Up Your Facebook Fundraiser: 

  1. Click fundraiser heart coinFundraisers in the left menu of your News Feed. You may need to click See More. You can also click here to be redirected to the page. 

  2. Click + Raise Money.

  3. Select Nonprofit or Charity.

  4. Select UNITED WAY OF THE LAKESHORE (This is very important. If you select United Way or Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, you will be fundraising for the national accounts and only a small percentage of your dollars will stay local). Once you set up your fundraiser, we will be asking what county you are fundraising for (Muskegon, Newaygo, or Oceana). 

  5. Click Create.

Donations for Muskegon County are matched thanks to Nichols! Donations in Oceana County are matched thanks to Country Dairy!

Want some extra materials or talking points check out our toolkit!

In our toolkit you will find stats about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a list of how many children are receiving books in each community, photos, Zoom Backgrounds, videos, talking points, press releases, and articles. You can use as many or as little of these tools as you would like! We just want to make sure you have all of the materials you need to grow your Beard for Books! 

Have any questions or need help? Contact Kara Zielinski at or call (231) 332- 4003. 

Why is Beards for Books Important?

Kindergarten is a formative learning year. It’s when children learn the skills that will help them adapt and succeed in later years of school. If more kids had the skills and abilities they need to be successful in school when they started kindergarten, they would have a greater opportunity to achieve success in high school and beyond. 61% of Muskegon County, 68% of Newaygo County, and 63% of Oceana County  3rd Graders are NOT reading at grade level according to the MSTEP. From kindergarten to grade 3, children learn how to read. From grade 3 through the rest of an individual’s life, they read to learn. If students are not proficient in reading by 3rd grade, then they will continue to struggle in school and comprehension, falling farther behind. Currently, there is a 30 Million word gap between children who are read to versus those who are not. The Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in Muskegon, Oceana, and Newaygo counties helps our children prepare for kindergarten by delivering books right to their door.

Imagine two five-year-olds are about to race to the edge of the playground. When they line up, one starts 20 feet in front of the other. Who will reach the finish line first? For some kids, this is what it is like to start kindergarten. They start school so far behind their peers; it’s hard to catch up.

All kids are different. Some kids will already be able to cut construction paper in a straight line. Others will still be working on just holding the scissors. Some won’t know the differences between “b” and “d,” and some will have mastered the whole alphabet.  While some difference in capabilities is normal, there are certain literacy, numeracy, social-emotional, physical and linguistic skills and abilities that all kids need to be active participants in kindergarten. Making sure all kids have these baseline skills on day one is about equity. 

Studies show that students who are black, Hispanic, Native American, and from families living below the poverty line are often developmentally and academically behind their peers who are white, Asian, and from affluent families (National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts on Knowledge and Skills of Young Children). The gap is not inherent to a child’s cultural, socioeconomic, or geographical background but rather a result of years of economic, housing, cultural, and other policies that have disproportionately hurt people of color and who work low- and middle-skill jobs. These policies have created a gap in opportunities to learn for the children of these families. As stated earlier in this article, our region faces a 30 million word gap for kindergarteners, and up to 68% of our students are not reading at grade level by grade 3. 

United Way of the Lakeshore works with families, early childhood educators, and childcare providers to help all kids entering kindergarten start from the same spot. It is through programs like the Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Thanks to United Way of the Lakeshore, this program has been available in Muskegon County since 2015, and Oceana County in 2017.  

These books are making a huge impact on how parents are able to read with their children in our community. Survey results show that there was a 90% increase in parents reading more with their children once they enrolled in the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, 70% reported reading daily. 88% of our parents reported that they feel the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has helped prepare their child for Kindergarten & 90% of parents reported that the program has helped them as a parent.