Where does one get a good meal, have a lot of laughs and rub elbows with a who's who of Wilson County? The Imagination Dinner, of course.
Old hands and new fun lovers are now carefully considering what costumes they want to sport at the annual Wilson Books from Birth Imagination Dinner to benefit the county's branch of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. This is the group's major fundraiser of the year, raising money to help Wilson County children learn the joys of reading.
As always, the event will be at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center East/West Building, where guests will take part in fun and games to benefit Wilson Books from Birth. The Wilson County chapter of the organization is a part of the statewide Imagination Library, the pre-K literacy service that provides books to children in county at no cost to the family. Any child from birth to 5 is eligible for the program.
Peggy Simpson, who heads Wilson Books from Birth, said each table seats eight and will cost a group $250. Individual tickets are available as well.
"People are already looking for unusual characters," Simpson said. "The ADK Education Fraternity, made up of retired educators, is already saying 'We've got it this year.' They have two tables every year, and last year they came as the Mickey Mouse Club."
Both Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead and County Mayor Randall Hutto can be counted on to attend.
"Mayor Craighead usually does a rodeo theme because the dinner is right before the start of the annual Whip Crackin' Rodeo," she said.
Groups or businesses buy tables and, after sponsoring a table, the group selects a "wacky waiter" for the evening. The sponsor selects a theme for the table, and that table is decorated accordingly. Participants at each table dress to match the theme. The waiter waits on the table and collects "tips" for silverware, napkins or anything else requested. Those tips add to the fundraising total for the evening. If a group cannot select a waiter, one will be chosen for them.
In recent years, a Wizard of Oz table, complete with a waiter dressed as a flying monkey, was a hit, and no one could stop looking at Property Assessor Jack Pratt's Scooby Doo table, featuring the entire Scooby gang and the Mystery Machine. Pratt's office always goes all out and last year the table featured President Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin.
As always, Pratt is keeping the plan for this year close to his vest.
"He won't even discuss their theme," Simpson said.
Dinner gets really fun when challenges are issued and accepted between the tables. In the past, it has proven to be a God-given opportunity to make one of the mayors and his table do something silly and photo worthy.
There will be live and silent auctions and door prizes will also be given out.
"This is our only fundraiser," Simpson said to emphasize how important the Imagination Dinner is to Book from Birth. "We had a good 2012. In fact, it's been good all seven years."
Currently, there are 4,400 children who receive a new book each month in Wilson County and about 5,500 have aged out of the program. Wilson Books from Birth is staffed entirely by volunteers, so all the money raised will go toward buying books, not staff salaries.
With so many children to reach, Simpson is determined to keep the organization growing, and that is no easy task. The cost to supply books for children is $30 per year per child served. Of that cost, $15 comes from the Governor's Foundation, and the other $15 is raised by the county organizations themselves through fundraisers, such as the Imagination Dinner.
The eighth annual Imagination Dinner is set for April 11 at 6:30.m.
To reserve a table, or for more information about Wilson Books from Birth, call 615-444-5586.
"It's our eighth year, and it's wide open," Simpson said.