NEW YORK -- Country superstar Dolly Parton received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy on Thursday at Gotham Hall in New York City.
Parton laughs at the idea that she is some sort of secret philanthropist. In fact, Parton believes she gets too much attention for her philanthropic work -- which ranges from promoting childhood literacy to supporting those affected by natural disasters and providing numerous college scholarships through her Dollywood Foundation.
"I don't do it for attention," she told The Associated Press in an interview, shortly before she received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. "But look! I'm getting a lot of attention by doing it."
Social media sleuths did piece together this week that the country superstar had been quietly paying for the band uniforms of many Tennessee high schools for years. And it took decades for her to reveal that she used the songwriting royalties she earned from Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" to purchase a strip mall in Nashville to support the surrounding Black neighborhood in her honor.
It eventually came out that Parton had donated $1 million for research that helped create the Moderna vaccine for covid-19.
"I get paid more attention than maybe some others that are doing more than me," Parton said, adding that she hopes that attention inspires more people to help others.
In her Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy speech, Parton said she doesn't really have a strategy for her donations.
"I just give from my heart," she said. "I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will."
Parton's Imagination Library initiative sends a free book every month to children under five whose parents request them. Currently, Parton sends out about 2 million free books each month.
"This actually started because my father could not read and write and I saw how crippling that could be," she said. "My dad was a very smart man. And I often wondered what he could have done had he been able to read and write. So that is the inspiration."
The program continues to expand. And last month, the state of California partnered with Imagination Library to make the program available to the millions of children under five in the state.
Parton said she'll accept that attention because it furthers the cause.
Eric Isaacs, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science and a member of the medal selection committee, said Parton is a "tremendous example" of someone who understands the importance of philanthropy.
"Everyone knows her music," he said. "They might know Dollywood for entertainment, more broadly. But now they're going to know her for her philanthropy, which I'm not sure they have before."
She will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Nov. 5, alongside Eminem, Lionel Richie and Pat Benatar -- an honor she initially declined, but then graciously accepted.
"I'm ready to rock," she said, adding that she has already written a new song, especially for that ceremony in Los Angeles.
But Parton is also ready to expand her philanthropic work. This year, she launched the Care More initiative at her Dollywood Parks and Resorts, which gives employees a day off to volunteer at a nonprofit of their choice.
Parton says she hopes the day of service will let people realize that "when you help somebody, it helps them, but it can help you more."