'I cannot be a hypocrite and just say I'm going to donate this money for a tax write-off. I'd really like for it to mean something to me.'
The iconic American singer-songwriter and philanthropist Dolly Parton was recently recognized for her decades of charitable efforts. The 76-year-old was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy at Gotham Hall in New York City on Thursday, making her the first female entertainer to be honored with the award. Speaking to PEOPLE ahead of the award ceremony, Parton opened up about what inspires her philanthropic work, which includes fostering a love of reading in children around the world since 1995 through the Dollywood Foundation's Imagination Library.
Dolly Parton laughs at the idea that she is some sort of secret philanthropist.— The Associated Press (@AP) October 15, 2022
“I don’t do it for attention,” she told @AP shortly before she received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy on Thursday. “But look! I’m getting a lot of attention by doing it.” https://t.co/HVAoDXp2Qh pic.twitter.com/JkHN2raRzG
Parton famously launched the Imagination Library to help children in her home of Sevier County, inspired by her father Robert's inability to read and write. "That always made me feel bad about my dad, so I started it based on that, just for our county," the star shared. "Governor Phil Bredesen thought it was a great idea, so they took it statewide. It's just grown in leaps and bounds ever since then, but it came from a place in my heart to try to help children in their young years, their most impressionable years, to learn how to read and write." Other members of the 2022 class of Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy honorees include Manu Chandaria, who works through the Chandaria Foundation to provide healthcare to overlooked African communities; Lyda Hill, founder of the IF/THEN initiative to support women in STEM; and Lynn Schusterman and her daughter Stacy, major investors in criminal justice reform and reproductive rights.
Last week, Dolly Parton accepted the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy for her positive impacts such as:— Morning Brew ☕️ (@MorningBrew) October 17, 2022
- funding Covid-19 vaccine research
- paying for the band uniforms of Tennessee high school kids
- sending 2 million free books each month to children under five pic.twitter.com/eNhAiSZ5Hm
"It's great to be recognized, especially something as big as this [Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy] with all these wonderful, intelligent people that have done so much for the world," Parton said. "Just to be one of them is an honor to me." Although her list of achievements over the years includes 10 Grammy awards, 13 ACM Awards, and an upcoming induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the "Jolene" singer doesn't consider awards the goal of her philanthropy.
Dolly Parton among honorees at Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy ceremony pic.twitter.com/aSwyKEiaX0— KWTX News 10 (@kwtx) October 14, 2022
"It's always wonderful to get recognition for anything you've done that might've helped people. I'm always proud to accept the awards, and I'm always humbled by it," she said. "I'm proud of the Imagination Library as much as anything I've ever done in my life. To get an award for the things you've done just says, 'Hey, people are noticing, and it's doing some good!' It must be, or you wouldn't be recognized to that extent." Aside from her work through the Imagination Library, Parton's philanthropic efforts also include donations to Vanderbilt University for pediatric infectious disease research and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, and the Dollywood Foundation's My People Fund to support families affected by the 2016 wildfires in Sevier County.
"I always want to do things that I can be proud to talk about, things that I believe in," Parton explained. "I cannot be a hypocrite and just say I'm going to donate this money for a tax write-off. I'd really like for it to mean something to me—something I can take pride in. I know it's a lot of work, but there's a scripture in the Bible that says, 'To whom much is given, much is required,' so that's kind of how I feel when I think I'm working too much toward something. When it's something you love, you're happy to do the work, and I'll continue to do it for as long as I last."