The LaundryCares Foundation — in partnership with Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders — launches its first-ever Summit to leverage the role of the laundromat in promoting early literacy nationwide.

Coinciding with Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss’ birthday, the Coin Laundry Association’s (CLA) LaundryCares Foundation has launched the inaugural LaundryCares Literacy Summit. This convening in Chicago, IL, held in partnership with Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders, will bring together national literacy organizations to explore the unique role the laundromat can play in enhancing early literacy efforts in local communities across the country.

LaundryCares Literacy Summit 2018Since 2006, LaundryCares has been hosting its Free Laundry Day initiative, a nationwide effort to provide families with free laundry services at select laundromats in underserved communities across the country. Hundreds of loads of laundry are typically completed during each free laundry day. Over the last three years, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative, the Free Laundry Day initiative has expanded to include 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. Furthermore, CLA and Too Small to Fail have implemented “Wash Time is Talk Time,” a national partnership to distribute children’s books, parent-child conversation posters, and family tip sheets through 5,000 laundromats across the country.

In partnership with Libraries Without Borders, LaundryCares has set up “Wash & Learn” literacy programs in Michigan, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and DC. Through the “Wash & Learn” program, we create pop-up libraries and learning spaces inside laundromats, which bring books, laptops, and curated WiFi networks to families and children at their neighborhood laundromat. The program also convenes local libraries, nonprofits and community organizations, who team up to facilitate educational workshops that align with wash and dry cycles.

“We have an opportunity to remove one of the major barriers to achieving 3rd grade literacy,” says Allister Chang, Executive Director of Libraries Without Borders. “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 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. Through this innovative approach, we’ve been able to expand and amplify the reach of local libraries and nonprofits, allowing them to help the families and children who haven fallen through the cracks. It’s been incredible to see how many families come back to the program each week, albeit at different times!”

In recent months, there has been an outpouring of interest from literacy organizations in collaborating with LaundryCares to support increased efforts. This inaugural LaundryCares Literacy Summit aims to bring like-missioned organizations together to identify how to collectively make a bigger impact to promote childhood literacy. Summit sponsors and in-kind supporters include Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books—as well as Lakeshore Learning Materials, a leading retailer and distributor of innovative educational products.

“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. We are excited to build on our collective strengths and look forward to working with like-minded organizations and companies to help children reach their highest potential,” said CLA CEO Brian Wallace.

Summit participants and future partners will gain access to LaundryCares’ growing network of member stores nationwide. The extensive footprint of LaundryCares, coupled with the passion and generosity of CLA members, represents a nationwide distribution channel to connect children with literacy efforts. In addition to providing invaluable access to families most in need.

“Families spend an average of 2.5 hours during each visit to the laundromat. We have worked to help turn laundry time into meaningful opportunities to engage families in literacy-activities. We envision the Literacy Summit playing a pivotal role in identifying how the laundromat can serve as a community hub for book distribution and other literacy efforts. These are our goals and we are thrilled to join forces to tackle them together,” said Jane Park Woo, Deputy Director of Too Small to Fail.