How JetBlue Helps Children Soar with Reading

Aug 26, 2020 12:00 PM ET
Article

Reading not only fuels knowledge, it inspires creativity and transports us to worlds beyond our present reality. In 2011, we created Soar with Reading, a program designed to stimulate the imagination by putting books into the hands of kids who need them most.

In an effort to make a greater societal impact, in 2014, JetBlue commissioned an ongoing study by Dr. Susan Neuman, a childhood literacy expert and one of the researchers of a 2001 study that illustrated there is access to only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in underserved communities. Dr. Neuman was tasked with examining if the landscape of literature had become better or worse for our nation’s children. Her research showed that the problem had become significantly worse. The study, which analyzed the literacy landscape of Anacostia, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., revealed “book deserts” in high poverty areas where there was only one book for every 830 children in the summertime when schools were not in session. This is compared to the book supply in more affluent communities, where there was one book for every two children. From this research, we concluded that these book deserts were not unique to Anacostia but exist in low-income neighborhoods across the country. In response to these findings, JetBlue took an innovative approach to bringing books to underserved neighborhoods in JetBlue’s network by creating fun and completely free book vending machines.

Filled with a wide array of children’s books, these vending machines are placed in community centers and libraries in other cities including Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, New York, San Francisco and Oakland. By putting books into the hands of children during the summer months, this program helps alleviate the documented decline of reading scores in lower-income neighborhoods between school sessions.

$3.75M in books donated through Soar with Reading since 2011

In 2018, Soar with Reading landed in San Francisco and Oakland. In partnership with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, JetBlue distributed 100,000 books to kids across the Bay Area. Vending machines were filled with books from award-winning authors and were offered in English, Spanish and Chinese to meet these communities’ specific needs. That summer, we also invited customers, crewmembers and the community to #BookWithUs by voting for their favorite JetBlue city to win $25,000 in children’s books. The winning city also received a reading room makeover for a local community organization.

In 2019, we brought Soar with Reading to our hometown, New York City. Throughout the summer, vending machines were placed in the five boroughs: Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Kids and families were encouraged to take as many books as they wanted throughout the summer, free of charge. While the program is focused on encouraging book ownership, libraries are an important community resource and a critical part of our partnership strategy. The Queens Public Library distributed nearly half of all the books donated to the five boroughs, leading to an increase in library foot traffic and a surge of interest in reading across Queens. In 2020, we will bring this award-winning program to our Boston focus city. 

First Book

As a part of our continued mission to increase access to books for children in need, we partnered with the nonprofit, First Book. First Book works to remove barriers to quality education by making resources like books, sports equipment and winter coats affordable for programs and schools serving children from low-income communities. Together, JetBlue and First Book work with local communities and schools to donate books during JetBlue inaugural flight events and diversity awareness celebrations like Black History Month and Women’s Heritage Month. Local education groups in select BlueCities benefit from the program by receiving more than 13,000 books that celebrate diverse heroes and themes.

Read the full report here