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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Laundry and Literacy

“I love coming here!”

This is not the typical refrain from a child whose parents bring him to the laundromat for two hours every week. But on a recent Saturday, these were heartfelt words from a seven-year-old boy, who had just scored a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid to take home to keep forever.

On Saturday, February 23, we teamed up with the LaundryCares Foundation, Libraries Without Borders, the Triangle Learning Network, and Too Small to Fail to hold a Free Laundry Day launch of Wash & Learn Durham at two Wash House Laundromats.


188 households — a total of 686 people — turned out for the daylong Free Laundry Day celebration, completing a whopping 22,250 pounds of laundry! Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson cut the ribbon; 255 free lunches were served; and families enjoyed storytimes, learned about ongoing literacy programs and resources available to them at the laundromat, and filled up bags with 1,354 books to take home and keep forever.

We will be back at two Durham Wash House Laundromats every week with regular storytimes and literacy programming because we know that the key to making sure children and families have what they need to achieve their literacy goals is meeting families where they are. That’s why we added Wash & Learn Durham to our portfolio of programs, all of which are aimed at helping children build home libraries and partnering with parents in supporting their children’s academic success.

Financed in part by a Catalytic Grant from the Triangle Learning Network, Wash & Learn Durham is turning the time families spend in laundromats into literacy enrichment opportunities. Libraries Without Borders has helped us design our new program. Every Saturday, Book Harvest team members offer storytimes and activities at both sites, and there will soon be tablets loaded with literacy activities available as well. Also at both sites, we stock bookshelves filled with free children’s books that are available any time the laundromats are open, and children are invited to choose an unlimited number of books from those shelves to take home and keep forever.

The potential of this program was exemplified by the reflection of a one of our staff members, who shared of her recent visit to the laundromat:

When we walked into the Wash House, there was a mom and her 18-month-old son sitting on one of the benches reading book after book. It was so sweet to see. We had brought some more board books, so I brought one over to her and the little boy carried it around the laundromat with him. She had about 10 books in the laundry basket that she was taking home. What I love about this moment is that it seemed perfectly normal for her to be sitting with her son at the laundromat reading. The learning space lends itself to reading. It was really great.

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