Sometimes, the most awesome things happen while you’re doing your laundry. For a group of customers and their families at Wash World in New Orleans, a recent Saturday morning of sorting, washing, drying and folding also included meeting President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea Clinton. 

Wash World and its connected po-boy shop Melba’s was a stop for the Clinton family because they are doing something awe-inspiring every single day. Wash World includes a Family Read Play & Learn space, and this space enhances literacy for the children who accompany their parents to laundry chores every week or so. 

The Clinton Foundation and their initiative Too Small to Fail partners with the Laundry Cares Foundation to provide these literacy spaces to coin laundries around the country. Too Small to Fail also works with grocery stores, clinics and car dealerships – everyday spaces where parents spend time with their children.

The Family Read Play & Learn spaces create a place for reading, storytelling, literacy activities and educational interaction. Kits, available from the Laundry Cares Foundation, include a comfortable couch, puppets, coloring sheets and books that are carefully curated for all ages by librarians and teachers. 

Each week, Wash World further encourages language development by welcoming a storyteller who reads aloud and engages kids in word play and songs. These story times also helps parents build their relationship with their child and build literacy efforts by modeling conversation starters, positive interaction and comfortable teaching behaviors. Jane Park Woo, director of Too Small to Fail noted, “These seemingly small interactions can have a big impact for a child’s development.” 

A recent New York University study confirms this. When Dr. Susan Neuman evaluated New York Family Read Play & Learn space in laundromats, she found that children participated in 30 times more literary activities at these facilities than in laundromats without the spaces. She also noted that children stayed engaged with story times an average of 47 minutes – which also helps parents focus on getting their laundry done easier, knowing the kids are positively and safely engaged. 

Dawnsha Frazier and her three boys love the Read Play & Learn space. As the boys pounced on the books and learning sheets, Frazier noted, “It’s really about getting them to sit down and focus on reading and really enjoying it, getting something out of this time here.” 

“We’re thrilled with what you’ve done here,” said Rodham Clinton. “You’re doing your wash, you’re getting something good to eat, you’re reading.”

Having parents and children spend time in a positive way in everyday spaces is a significant goal for the Family Read Play & Learn spaces. Reading books, engaging in conversation through tip sheets available within the laundromats and telling stories together helps enrich this downtime, helps children reach developmental milestones and strengthen literacy skills. 

Since the beginning of this partnership, Laundry Cares and the Too Small To Fail initiative have seen dozens of Family Read Play & Learn spaces open in coin laundries across the country. Across the board, the laundries have seen their customers embrace the concept, even passing other facilities so they can wash clothes in a space that benefits their children. Meeting the Clintons, who shook hands and took selfies with Wash World’s customers, was most certainly an added benefit to bringing their laundry to a facility with a Read Play & Learn space.

The Family Read Play & Learn space slotted neatly into what Wash World and Melba’s co-founders Jane and Scott Wolfe have developed. “We hit a vein with this; literacy, community and food,” said Jane Wolfe. “You’re communing with your family, parents and kids spending time together. We want to make it as valuable as that time can be.”

Wolfe has developed Eat and Read at Melba’s, bringing in well-respected authors such as Pulitizer Prize winner Colson Whitehead who wrote “The Nickel Boys” and Sarah Broom who penned “The Yellow House” and is a National Book Award finalist. These writers signed and gave away copies of their books to Melba’s and Wash World customers. 

Rodham Clinton noted the innovations, how they are positive for Wash World and how they work to bring positive economic development to the neighborhood. “In the world we’re living in now, a business has to go the extra mile,” she said. “That’s how this business becomes a magnet for the community, because there is so much happening here.” 

What’s also happening is that area libraries are reporting that, when there is a Family Read Play & Learn space nearby, they see an increase in visits as well – helping to improve literacy in the community overall, not just on wash days. 

More information about Family Read, Play & Learn Kits is available by clicking here.