As a child, my favorite book was “Tea and Jam for Frances” by Russell Hoban. I read it so many times that the pages became tattered. Reading was my favorite past-time. I loved my book and knowing I could read it whenever I wanted.

Spreading opportunity

As a mother, hearing staggering statistics such as only 1 in 300 children from low-income communities have access to age-appropriate books in their homes is disconcerting to say the least. Upon hearing it, I could not grasp that statistic.

It shocked me that, in this day and age, so many children were without something that I sometimes take for granted—a book to read at home. Realizing that very few children in low income communities have this same experience inspired and motivated me to work change that figure.

"Seeing kids choose a book they hadn’t read before, week after week, and watching as they delighted in taking ownership of the book—a first for so many—is a testament to the success of the program."

Five years ago we began to tackle childhood literacy. In the beginning, we focused on giving as many books as we could to children in Title I schools, through a partnership with First Book. As the program expanded over the years, we wanted to have a greater impact in a way that met the needs of the communities we were served and were trying to reach.  

Raising the bar

In 2015, we began working with local educators and non-profits became crucial and highlighted the importance of public-private partnership. More important than monetary support, these partnerships greatly benefit from time, talent, resources and, in this case, books and crewmembers volunteering their personal time to read to kids in their local communities.

As an airline, we certainly realized we weren’t the experts in this space, so we looked to a diverse group of early childhood educators to ensure the next phase of Soar with Reading was crafted with a stronger focus on engaging the communities that were in the most need of access to books. We empowered students to select the books they wanted to read themselves.

The idea of choice for the kids led us to create a free book vending machine pilot program in Anacostia, Washington, DC. We also committed to provide 100,000 books to this community through this initiative and other partnerships. Seeing kids choose a book they hadn’t read before, week after week, and watching as they delighted in taking ownership of the book—a first for so many—is a testament to the success of the program. My hope is that those children cherish their books as much as I cherished “Tea and Jam for Frances.”