What better day than Dr. Seuss’ birthday to focus on childhood literacy?
Last month – coinciding with the famed author’s March 2nd birthday, as well as National Read Across America Day – the Coin Laundry Association’s LaundryCares Foundation launched its inaugural LaundryCares Literacy Summit, with literacy experts from across the country coming together at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago. You can follow photos, social posts, and video about the event using #LaundryLit18.
The two-day event, held in partnership with Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders, brought together national organizations to explore the unique role self-service laundries can play in enhancing early literacy efforts within the local communities they serve across the country.
“Due to our tremendous reach in underserved communities, LaundryCares is in a unique position to leverage existing early literacy efforts in neighborhoods across the country,” said Coin Laundry Association President and CEO Brian Wallace. “We are excited to build on our collective strengths and look forward to working with like-minded organizations to help children reach their highest potential.”
Watch this brief video of the event:
In all, 26 organizations – including the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, KaBOOM, the Library of Congress, ReadyNation, major metropolitan public libraries, and universities – were represented at the Summit, which was facilitated by Max Suzenaar of Minding Your Business, a consulting firm based in the Chicago area. Together, the thought leaders in attendance contributed insight, ideas, and expertise that will be used to chart the future course of the LaundryCares Foundation’s mission.
In addition, Summit sponsors and in-kind supporters included Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, and Lakeshore Learning Materials, a leading retailer and distributor of innovative educational products.
“It was inspiring to bring together all of these different people, who are leading the charge in childhood literacy, especially early-stage childhood literacy,” Suzenaar noted. “Sometimes, when you pull together like-missioned organizations, there can be a feeling of everyone wanting to protect what they have. However, at the Summit, the extraordinary openness and sharing of ideas and best practices was incredible. These people were so impassioned that it just broke down all barriers. They learned from each other. The development of a coalition goes beyond just entities coming together, and it was clear they each had individual takeaways.”
Over the last few years, the organization’s Free Laundry Day initiative has grown to become the core of this group’s mission – a nationwide effort to provide families with free laundry services at select laundromats in underserved communities across the U.S.
Within the last three years, these Free Laundry Days have expanded to include free book distribution, reading circles and family literacy activities, as well as to provide an opportunity for parents to get information and tools to support their young children’s early brain and language development.
“Families spend an average of two and a half hours during each visit to the laundromat,” explained Jane Park Woo, deputy director of Too Small to Fail. “We have worked to help turn laundry time into meaningful opportunities to engage families in literacy activities.” She added that the Summit was pivotal in identifying how vended laundries can serve as community hubs for book distribution and other literacy efforts going forward.
Moreover, LaundryCares has supported Libraries Without Borders’ “Wash & Learn” literacy programs in Michigan, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Through the “Wash & Learn” program, pop-up libraries and learning spaces are created inside laundromats, which bring books, laptops, and curated Wi-Fi networks to families and children at their neighborhood laundromats.
“We have an opportunity to remove one of the major barriers to achieving third-grade literacy,” said Allister Chang, executive director of Libraries Without Borders, referring to research that states by the time a child reaches the third grade, his or her literacy level will be a strong predictor of whether or not that child will graduate from high school. “Many of the families we have worked with over the years have told us they are unable to attend library programs for a number of reasons – their work schedules fluctuate, they don’t have transportation to and from the library, they feel out of place, or they are intimidated by the unfamiliar. By forging this coalition, we have been able to bring existing literacy and library programs to the people – meeting them where they are and at times that work for them.”
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At the Summit
The first day of the Summit in Chicago began with informal networking and lunch, followed by an overview of the upcoming program. Next, Dr. Susan B. Neuman of NYU Steinhardt presented the key findings contained within her whitepaper entitled “Rinse, Read, Spin, Talk: Using Laundromats to Support Early Learning in Underserved Communities.” Those in attendance then broke into working groups to share their initial thoughts and reactions to the challenges and opportunities that exist in bringing early childhood reading and literacy resources to communities most in need.
To perfectly illustrate how self-service laundries can play a critical role in childhood literacy, the Summit’s attendees boarded a motor coach for an early evening visit to the World’s Largest Laundromat, located in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. Once at the store, Summit-goers were treated to pizza and taken on a tour of the massive facility. And owner Tom Benson discussed some of the many ways in which his business has been able to give back to those within the community his laundromat serves, particularly in terms of programs that reach out to the entire family. AlliedPRA generously donated the motor coach to transport attendees to and from the laundry.
The highlight of the evening at the World’s Largest Laundromat was watching that type of family engagement as local entertainer – a clown dubbed “Mary Macaroni” – performed magic tricks, led singalongs, and played games in a fun and energetic way. She awarded prizes of coloring books and pencils – tools to help promote creativity and learning. Afterward, representatives from the Berwyn and Cicero public libraries read books to the children. In addition, more than 500 free books, donated by Scholastics Books, were handed out that night to children in the store.
The second day of the Summit included more in-depth working sessions among the various groups. Attendees shared what they were doing within their own organizations to help promote literacy, which was then used to generate potential opportunities within a laundromat setting for delivering the unique value that each organization offers.
Suzenaar facilitated the second day’s brainstorming sessions.
“We’re pulling together a road map that’s going to show us – if we move forward as a coalition – how we can leverage our shared learnings and resources,” he said. “In other words, it won’t replace anything a participating organization is doing, but it will supplement it. We want to be able to leverage each other’s outcomes and metrics.
“Collectively, we’ll be gathering data and information so that we can move the initiative forward on a major scale – and perhaps establish relationships with much larger funders. We’re going to try to maximize the distribution channel so that, eventually, we have more of a turnkey scenario nationwide. That would be the ultimate vision.”
“We are excited about the unique position of LaundryCares to drive real progress in an area that bears significant ramifications for the future of children in underserved communities,” Wallace added. “We look forward to engaging the entire industry in supporting the families who support our businesses, and living our motto of Laundries Connecting Communities.”
How You Can Help
Volunteer help and donations are critical in the success of the LaundryCares’ mission. If you are able to help as a volunteer, please click the link below.
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