Recently, Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR), attended the LaundryCares Literacy Summit in Chicago, IL. Prior to the summit, SCGLR and The Laundry Project teamed up to hold #PopUpNeighbor events at SuperMatt Laundromat/Lavandería locations. Pop Up Neighbor events are unexpected opportunities where volunteers make connections with individuals and families while alleviating the cost of laundry. For three hours, everyone who walks into the laundromat has their laundry fees paid, thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation.
Last time, my parents and I volunteered together. Our hearts were swollen with so much love, we made a pact that we’d be at the next one.
Surprisingly, I recognized some of our neighbors from last time. Dad and I were delighted to meet new ones too. At these events, so many moments create positive ripple effects. I was there for my father’s special moment, and watching his face light up was glorious.
There was a little boy, probably eight or nine, who was at the laundromat with his grandma and wore a smile from ear to ear the entire time. While I was talking to my father, he walked up and said, “You look like the new Santa!”
He had a point. Minus the white beard, dad has a jolly belly. The wooden rocking chair he was sitting in might have sealed the deal.
I looked at the boy and smiled and said, “This is my dad.”
He looked at dad, then looked at me and said, “He is the nicest man ever.”
Our hearts melted!
It was also a day of learning. As I was dispensing the quarters and soap, I learned that some neighbors prefer for the water to start before they add soap. I also learned that others prefer a lot of soap for an “extra clean wash.” Another neighbor, who did not speak English, showed me a trick so the dryer would finally accept the quarters. And another neighbor taught me how to program the dryer when there are two loads—one on top, the other on the bottom—and only one place for quarters.
I met Stacey, a man extremely proud of the work he does for our community…he builds new roads.
I met Joel who wanted to know more about the campaign. After I shared information about SCGLR’s mission, with a concerned face, he asked if learning from YouTube was ok. Not wanting to put down the efforts his family was making, I said, “I’m sure YouTube is fine from time to time, but as the saying goes… no app can replace a lap!”
In Chicago, Beth was further educated about the benefits of incorporating literacy elements in laundromats as ideas and opportunities for collaboration were shared.
“Parents and children often spend 2–3 hours each week in laundromats. There is quite a bit of lag-time as they wait for clothes to go through the wash and dry cycles and even more time spent folding the clothes, so the laundromat is a terrific location for literacy,” said Duda. “When you consider that 80% of our children growing up in low-income households are unable to read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade; 60% of children in the United States are testing not ready for kindergarten; and research showing that 2/3 of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up incarcerated or on public assistance, it makes sense for all of us to take every opportunity to support literacy in our communities.
With our region’s shared aspiration to ensure all children can read on grade level by the end of third grade, organizations are uniting to strengthen our community through outreach at the laundromats:
In a perfect situation, there would be literacy nooks with community engagers in every laundromat, but it’s a process. As the saying goes, change happens at the speed of trust.