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Soar with Reading contest needs some Motown muscle to put Detroit over the top


It’s safe to say that Detroiters are a competitive lot – we like our grant applications, we race after microloans and we work hard to get what we want when we want.

That it why this contact caught my attention. Any press release that includes the words “Detroit is in second place” has the power to grab not only my eye but to raise my own competitive spirit. I’m hoping that both the subject – books for kids – and the idea of working together for a common goal will put our fair city ahead of the pack on this one.

logoHere’s the deal: JetBlue’s Soar with Reading summer reading initiative recently launched an online #BookBattle, giving people across the country a chance to vote for which city they want to receive 100,000 new children’s books. Nice, right?

Detroit is currently in third place, behind Ft. Lauderdale and Houston, but in front of New York and Los Angeles. More Detroit votes are needed and we encourage Detroit residents to vote now and often! Voting is open in until Aug. 31.

Detroit was selected as a competing city based on the results of a study commissioned by JetBlue that examined how accessible age-appropriate books are for children and their families to purchase. The results were staggering and found areas of Detroit to have approximately one book for every 42 children. The book battle winner will receive 100,000 books in its neighborhoods in need. Vote here.

So, why Detroit? We asked Kate Wetzel, manager of corporate social responsibility at JetBlue, for the answer.

“We launched the program in 2011 in hopes of improving access to age-appropriate books for children from under-served communities. Since 2011, JetBlue has donated 250,000 books to children in the cities that we fly.
After giving away over a million dollars’ worth of books, JetBlue wanted to see if what the impact of our donations were to under-served communities,” Wetzel said.

Last year, Wetzel said, JetBlue commissioned a study by former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and early child education expert Dr. Susan Neuman that examined the access to age-appropriate children books in low-income areas across the country.

“In Detroit, we learned that the Hamtramck neighborhood is a book desert, with only one age-appropriate book for every 42 children,” Wetzel said. “While doing better, the University District still only had one age-appropriate book for every 11 children. Kids and families in these communities don’t have access to purchase age-appropriate books. Our goal is to provide books to fill the immediate need as well as inspire local retailers to start carrying kids’ books on their shelves.”


“And because I love Detroit! Having studied at the University of Michigan, Detroit is near and dear to my heart,” Wetzel added. “When we developed the plan for this program, I always made sure that Detroit was on the list and I am rooting for it to win the 2016 book grant. This is a city full of people that band together to make things happen and the city has proven to be a strong contender in the #BookBattle with a quarter of all votes last I checked. If Detroit wins the #BookBattle, we will give out 100,000 books to kids in need, allowing them to start their own library at home and help develop their love of reading.”

Some background: The #BookBattle is in celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Soar with Reading program.  Soar with Reading, an initiative of JetBlue and Random House Children’s Books, provide age-appropriate books to children in underserved communities across the country while also encouraging children’s imaginations to take flight through reading.

In its pilot program, JetBlue placed vending machines that will dispense brand-new, free books for kids aged 0 – 14. Three vending machines, which went out this summer, were placed in locations where families naturally are in the community. Kids are allowed to take as many books as they’re interested in – no strings attached.

Additionally, in support of the vending machine program, the community has the opportunity to opt-in to a SMS campaign where JetBlue will provide age-appropriate reading tips, updates on vending machine book selections and information about “special-guest readers” appearing at the machines.

As an aside, it gets me that the contest is going to many of the cities listed among the competitors – but Detroit is not one of the scheduled trips. That makes me want to win these books – a small prize, but a prize nonetheless – even more.

“We hope that providing free access to books in fun and convenient ways will encourage reading in communities across the country,” Wetzel said. “We’ve put hundreds of thousands of books into the hands of children nationwide, and hope to come to Detroit next – but it is up to the residents and fans of Detroit to vote! #BookBattle voting is open through August 31 at I hope all Michiganders get online and vote so that we can bring 100,000 books to kids across Detroit. We’ll be announcing the winning city in September.”

It also reminds me of the super-successful “Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront,” one of my favorite-reading based activities. Detroit Riverfront Conservancy with the General Motors Foundation created interactive early literacy program that provides children from southeast Michigan an opportunity to see live children’s entertainment, hear a story read by a local celebrity reader and receive a free book.

Reading is a passion of mine – I have enjoyed countless hours reading and writing books. I shudder at the idea that a child doesn’t have enough to read or doesn’t have access to the books that will put him or her on the path to success. Let’s vote, and vote often.

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