Dolly Parton’s got a big voice, and an even bigger heart

By Maria Pasquini
March 01, 2018 06:20 PM
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Dolly Parton’s got a big voice, and an even bigger heart.

On Tuesday, the singer’s non-profit organization Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library celebrated a very important milestone: donating its 100 millionth book.

What started in 1995 as a small-time charity that focused on donating books to children in Tennessee, the state where Parton grew up, has grown into a global organization, mailing out 1 million books a month to kids all over the world.

Fittingly, Parton, 72, celebrated the nonprofit’s achievement by personally donating the 100 millionth book — which happened to be her own children’s book, Coat of Many Colorsto the Library of Congress.

Here’s a look back at some of the many other charitable moments that have filled Parton’s career.

Dolly Parton
Shannon Finney/Getty

Raising Big Money for Tennessee Wildfires Victims

Following deadly wildfires in her native Tennessee that left 14 dead and hundreds displaced from their homes late 2016, Parton launched My People Fund as a part of her Dollywood Foundation to assist fire victims in her hometown of Sevier County. The organization provided $1,000 a month to each family for up to six months.

“Part of why the people in the Smokies are my people is that when someone needs help, everybody steps up to do their part. And a whole lot more,” she wrote in a CNN essay about the donation. “I got with my great folks at Dollywood and the Dollywood Foundation, and together we came up with what we thought would be the best way to help those nearly a thousand people who had lost everything with ‘a hand up’ and help them get back on their feet.”

The songstress had previously hosted a three-hour televised special for those affected by the wildfires, and the event was such a success that Parton was able to surprise “over 900 families” with an extra “$10,000.”

She also announced she would be pledging an addition $3 million to start a new fund called Mountain Tough Recovery to continue helping those affected by those wildfires.

“We are partnering with the Mountain Tough Recovery Organization, which leaders of Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville formed to address some of the longer-term needs for residents affected by the fire, like housing, employment, and counseling,” she said about the new foundation, which will focus on long-term recovery. “And we’ll get there, because that’s what us mountain folks do.”

Encouraging a love of literature in millions all over the globe

Parton has long been an advocate for children’s literacy and in October of last year, the famed singer and actress released her first children’s album I Believe In You, whose profits went straight to her Imagination Library.

Explaining why she first decided to start the non-profit in 1995, Parton told PEOPLE, “I started it in honor of my dad.”

“My dad was not able to read and write — he was a country boy with a bunch of kids, and he had to work instead of going to school when he was a little boy, and so he never had the chance to get an education,” she continued, adding that “it seemed to really bother him a lot and I thought, ‘Well, what can I do for my precious dad?’ ‘Cause he was the greatest daddy in the world and one of the smartest people I’d ever known.”

“So I said, ‘Dad, why don’t we put together a little program where we give children books from the time they’re born, once a month, until they start school?’ ” she explained. “That way, they can learn to read, love books. If you can read, you can kinda self-educate.”

Courtesy Dolly Parton

Using her voice to advocate against bullying

In December of last year, Parton filmed a guest appearance on Universal Kids’ Sprout House where she performed some of the uplifting songs from her children’s album.

Explaining some of the themes behind her album, Parton told PEOPLE, “We talk about responsibility. We talk about bullying.”

“We talk about giving, we talk about friendship, loyalty and all those wonderful little things, and we do it in a fun way.”

Sprout

Raising $500,000 to go towards a new hospital for her hometown

During a benefit concert in May 2007, Parton told fans the proceeds from the night’s event would go towards a more important cause than fattening her pocketbook: building a new hospital for her native Sevier County.

Thanking the audience for spending “all that money,” Parton quipped that, “I ain’t worth it, but the folks in Sevier County are.”

Parton told the crowd that helping to make the new medical center a reality was important to her not only because “all of my family has been down there at one time or another” but because she wanted to give back to the country doctor that brought her into the world.

Opening a bald eagle exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoo

As a longtime supporter of the conservation of bald eagles, in 2013 Parton worked alongside the American Eagle Foundation to open a bald eagle exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

The non-profit organization — which has a longstanding partnership with Dollywood entertainment park — donated two non-releasable bald eagles to the exhibit. In 1991, one year after forming their partnership Parton and the AEF released their first bald eagle into the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new exhibit, Parton was given the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “Partnership Award” in recognition for her considerable support throughout the years.