Country music icon and humanitarian Dolly Parton is using her platform again to help others thrive.
Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for COVID-19 research and to help fund the Moderna vaccine back in 2020, and she encouraged people to get the shot in a video she shared from her immunization appointment. The 11-time Grammy Award winner has also supported other humanitarian efforts, including fundraising and donations for HIV/AIDs initiatives, disaster relief, cancer treatment, and animal rights.
Now, Parton is launching a higher education initiative for employees at her theme park, Dollywood. Learn more about Parton’s latest education program and four other times she’s championed education in the list below.
1. She started a program to pay for Dollywood employees’ college tuition.
Employees at Dollywood Parks and Resorts in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, are now getting more perks than free roller coaster rides and water park entry at the Smoky Mountain-themed attraction. Parton announced on Feb. 9 that she will start paying full college tuition, textbooks, and any additional school fees for employees at the theme park. The initiative, in partnership with the Grow U program, becomes effective Feb. 24. All 11,000 staff including season, part-time, and full-time employees will become eligible for reimbursement on their first day of work.
“One of the Dollywood Foundation's key tenets is to 'learn more,'” Dollywood Company President Eugene Naughton said.
“This program is created with that very tenet in mind. We want our hosts to develop themselves through advanced learning to fulfill the foundation's other tenets: care more, dream more, and be more."
2. She launched a literacy program to get more books into children’s hands.
Parton established the Dollywood Foundation in 1988 to promote children’s education in elementary schools in the Tennesee area. The foundation birthed its main initiative, the Imagination Library, in 1995 to mail free books to children from birth until their first year of schooling. Originally only serving Sevier County, Tennessee, the project grew to have a global reach and distributed its 150 millionth book in 2020.
3. She established the Buddy Program to keep teenagers in school.
After getting the Dollywood Foundation off the ground, Parton wanted to address the high school dropout rate in Sevier County, Tennessee, through the Buddy Program in 1991. The foundation incentivized seventh- and eighth-grade public school students to “buddy up” with each other by offering them $500 if they both graduated from high school. In the first year of the program, the county’s dropout rate decreased from 30% to 6%.
4. She recognized teachers for their contributions.
In 2002, the Dollywood Foundation created the inaugural Chasing Rainbows Award to honor a teacher annually who has overcome adversity to make a difference in children’s lives.
“Dolly has overcome many obstacles in her life and is making a difference in the lives of children … Now Dolly, in turn, gives this award personally every year to a teacher who has overcome obstacles in his/her life and is making a difference in the lives of children,” said Edna Rogers, director of the Dolly Parton Chasing Rainbows Award who won the award in 2002.
5. She encouraged college graduates to value education.
Parton delivered a motivational commencement speech at the University of Tennessee in 2009, in which she opened up about her own education experience and shared inspiring words.
“If I had but one request of you, I ask that you learn more,” she said. “Now, when I was in school I only made average grades. Maybe it was because I dreamed too much about music and becoming a star. Or maybe I was paying too much attention to the boys. Or maybe I was just your typical dumb A and I know there are a lot of us out there. Anyway, it took me a while to realize that the more you learn about everything, the easier it is to do it.
“I also believe that to learn more means to keep working at making your dreams come true,” she added.