The first-ever country artist to be named MusiCares Person of the Year, the 74-year-old has dedicated her stardom and life to make the world a better place for as many as she can.
For most of the world, Dolly Parton is a larger-than-life icon whose angelic voice and repertoire of timeless songs have cemented her name in music history. However, the "Jolene" singer's legacy is far greater than the incredible contributions she's made to the music industry. The most powerful and lasting impact of Parton's life has, without a doubt, been her decades-long charity efforts to improve the lives of generations around the world. The first-ever country artist to be named MusiCares Person of the Year, the 74-year-old has dedicated money, time, and support to make the world a better place for one and all.
Explaining why she makes it a point to give back to the community, Parton recently told TIME: "I know that I'm in a position to help. That's why I try to do it in every way that I can." Here are 12 inspiring examples of Parton's benevolence that makes her one of our all-time favorite celebrities:
In 1988, Parton established the Dollywood Foundation "to inspire the children in her home county to achieve educational success." As an avid advocate for education since the early days of her career, she was determined to give youngsters in her community a good shot at achieving their dreams like her.
2. The Buddy Program
One of the first undertakings of the Dollywood Foundation was to decrease the drop out rate in Parton's hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee. According to the celeb's website, in 1991, all fifth and sixth graders from Sevierville were invited by Parton to attend an assembly at Dollywood. "Dolly told the students that day she wanted each of them to choose a Buddy and if they didn't have a Buddy she would find one for them. She went on to make a very special announcement: she offered to personally give $500 to each and every student in the seventh and eighth grades if they graduated from high school. However, there was one additional requirement: each student's Buddy must graduate as well and they had to sign a contract to pledge to do everything they could to make sure both graduated," states the website. The program was a great success and ultimately reduced the dropout rate for those classes to 6%.
The Dollywood Foundation also offers five scholarships to the county's high school seniors to help further their education at any accredited university. "The scholarships are for students who have a dream they wish to pursue and who can successfully communicate their plan and commitment to realize their dreams," states the non-profit organization's website. The celeb has awarded monetary aid to a number of young students over the years in addition to the Dolly Parton Scholarship, which is a $15,000 scholarship awarded annually at each high school.
The 30,000-square-foot Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Parton's Dollywood amusement park houses the country's largest presentation of non-releasable bald eagles. Managed by the American Eagle Foundation, the aviary conducts "public environmental education, daily care of non-releasable birds of prey, raptor rehabilitation, and a Bald Eagle breeding/release program."
The Imagination Library was founded by the singer in 1995 in honor of her father. The singer aimed to "foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month." Inspired by her father's inability to read and write, the program has since become one of the most illustrious feathers on Parton's hat.
Dolly with the recipients of the Chasing Rainbows Award this year! pic.twitter.com/TSDnOKYZDh— Dolly Parton News (@PartonNews) November 30, 2017
Every year, the singer presents the Chasing Rainbows Award to a teacher who has overcome adversity. Given under the banner of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), the award gives the winner the chance to be "Dolly’s guest at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN, and his/her name is inscribed on a plaque inside her Chasing Rainbows Museum at the park."
Originally intended to just serve the children of Sevier County, the Imagination Library quickly expanded its reach beyond the county and eventually, the United States. The program launched in Canada in 2006 followed by the United Kingdom in 2007, Australia in 2013, and the Republic of Ireland in 2019.
According to TODAY, in 2007, Parton informed thousands of fans at a benefit concert that the estimated $500,000 raised from ticket sales would go to a new Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center, cancer center, and medical office. Her Dollywood theme park and Dixie Stampede dinner theater also pledged $250,000 each to the $110 million projects. She explained that she was passionate about the new hospital not only because "all of my family has been down there at one time or another," but also to honor the country doctor who brought her into the world.
Dolly Parton announces 'My People Fund' to help those affected by Tennessee wildfires | DETAILS: https://t.co/AZZ0uPcmno pic.twitter.com/hZQ1sL8sKS— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) December 3, 2016
When massive fires swept through Sevier County on November 28, 2016, the singer asked the Foundation to lead the effort to distribute $1,000 to the families who lost their primary residence every month for six months. "In two weeks, the Foundation created The My People Fund, designed the distribution process, and implemented the distribution. In May of 2017, the Foundation concluded the distribution with the announcement that over 411,000,000 had been raised and given to the families who lost their homes. Additional funds raised also provided one-time scholarships to high school seniors whose homes were lost to the fires," The Dollywood Foundation states.
In 2016, the celeb provided a $30,000 scholarship to a young girl in Arkansas to recognize the Imagination Library's achievement of distributing books to 1 million children each month. According to One Country, speaking of the initiative at the time, Parton said: "I thought long and hard about the best way to honor our achievement of reaching a million children a month. The Imagination Library is all about inspiring dreams, so what better way to pay tribute to this moment than by helping one special child pursue her college degree. I'm thrilled that today I can let the world know that precious little Evey Johns from Conway, Arkansas will receive a $30,000 scholarship for the college of her choice." By the time Johns reaches 18 years of age in 2032, the scholarship is estimated to have grown to $60,000.
According to Billboard, Parton celebrated the 2017 release of her children’s album, I Believe In You, by donating $1 million to the Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital in Nashville. "I love children. I've always been involved in one way or another with children's charities or with children in general, because I love little kids. I'm from a big family of children," she said at the time.
Earlier this year, in April, Parton announced that she was making a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University's Coronavirus research. "My longtime friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, who's been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure," she said at the time.