Wash and Learn

 In After School Program, Community Initiative, grassroots, PVF News

by Savannah Lira, Program and Communications Associate

You’ve probably heard of Doctors Without Borders, but not Libraries Without Borders. Since it’s founding in 2007 in Paris, this organization has expanded internationally into the US.

One of their programs is the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI). Rather than making kids go to where the books are (libraries that are often too far and have inconvenient hours), they bring the books to where the kids are. They partner with local librarians and volunteer groups to turn laundromats into libraries and a place to learn.

Mr. Manny, Children's Librarian from Oakland Public Library, arrives by bicycle towing the free library down to Family Laundry each Tuesday and Saturday.

WALI opened their first California site this year right here in Oakland, CA in partnership with Family Laundry and the Oakland Public Library system. Families spend an average of 90 minutes doing laundry with their little ones in tow. Twice a week, a librarian comes to Family Laundry on Foothill Blvd to provide free books to patrons and their children, in addition to “Story Time” and “Brain Building” programming. Parents can also make requests for books for their older children who are often in school during this time.

Mr. Manny and Family Laundry patron Lisette play Tic-Tac-Toe.
Mr. Manny reads a bilingual book aloud while Lisette follows along.

Family Laundry owners Laura and David saw an additional need to support the work of Libraries Without Borders: English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to be offered weekly for adults with varied levels of English proficiency. All educational services provided at Family Laundry are free of charge and have resulted in reported increased community engagement, awareness of public services, and confidence among ESL class participants.

Laundromats are an ideal place for families to learn with their kids. Libraries Without Borders hopes to scale the Wash and Learn Initiative to the waiting areas of all 30,000 coin laundries across the United States. 

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