Soar With Reading: Jet Blue’s Phenomenal​ Program to Encourage Reading

IMG_2070Free books?  Yeah sure.

I’m a librarian, so when I see the word books, I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame.

When I saw the sign on the side of the road in the Detroit neighborhood my mind immediately transported me to the boxes and boxes of old, smelly and water-stained books that tend to be found at church and library ‘give-aways’ I have been to before.  ‘Why would anyone want stinky books?’ I asked myself.

Matrix-544e6738I was in the Osborn Neighborhood just outside of Detroit.  I was there with three dozen teenagers from Kenosha on a mission trip.  We were spending our week working at the Matrix Center, a community oasis bubbling with optimism and goodness.

A little later that day, I noticed a young girl sitting at a lunch table.  All around her was noise and typical lunchroom pandemonium.  Yet, she had her head buried in a book.  I watched, wondering how in the world she maintained her attention.  ‘That book must be really good,’ I thought to myself.

Toward the end of the day, I overheard some of our students talking about a book vending machine.  ‘What’s that?’ I asked them.  They went on to tell me that there was a vending machine that gave out books.  Even if they were dispensed in a snazzy way, I still imagined those stinky old books.

The next day I found the vending machine.  This well designed and appointed vending machine blew my mind.  For, in the machine were BRAND NEW books of all levels and subjects.  There were board books for the youngest readers and thick chapter books and series for others.  IMG_2064

It wasn’t until I got back to Kenosha and has some time to research that I learned more about the program and the sponsor of this very cool idea.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.37.48 AM

The program, called Soar with Reading, was sponsored by Jet Blue and Random House Books.  Began in 2011, the program has donated over $1,750,000 in books to underserved communities! The program began in Washington, D.C. and this year, the Detroit area won the city challenge to receive five book vending machines!

In addition to free books, the program sponsors ‘guest readers’ who come to the centers and read with students.   The website is chock full of resources for families to encourage life-long reading.  There are age-appropriate recommendations and summaries to help readers choose books that are just right for them.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.36.37 AMScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.36.46 AM

Here is a quick video by one of my heroes, Mary Pope Osborne, the author of the Magic Tree House Series.

One of the students on the trip caught this precious moment where Ken Brown, the director of the Matrix Center helping a young student reach the touchpad to make a book selection.  Ken was one of those human beings that you meet every so often that just embodies joy.  He was kind, compassionate and a fierce advocate for the residents of the Osborn Neighborhood.

Ken Brown Book Vending Machine by Tory Fields















When you see companies like Jet Blue and Random House doing such good things I think you have to raise them up and encourage them to continue expanding these fantastic programs.

Free Books?  REALLY!

My Week Without Social Media

Last week, I had the pleasure of chaperoning a mission trip with high school students from Kenosha’s St. Mary’s Lutheran Church and Spirit Alive Church.  37 of us loaded up in three huge vans and one Chevy Traverse and headed to Detroit.  We were blessed to use Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, MI as our base camp.


While in Detroit, we spent the bulk of our time supporting the Matrix Center.  This centrally located building is an oasis in the Osborne Neighborhood, just a few miles on the edge of Detroit.  We cleared vacant lots, did landscaping, painting and a whole host of other projects that the busy staff just never had the time to do. The hot temperatures made outdoor work challenging.  The intense summer sun and heat pushed us all to our limits.  Still, the trip was fantastic in every respect.  While I enjoyed the hard work, I also enjoyed the mental vacation from social media.

Mission trip

Image courtesy Victoria Fields.

We had asked the youth to limit their phone use.  We wanted them to ‘be in the moment’ that seems to develop when folks are not forever looking down at their tiny screens.  They rose to the occasion.  It seemed only fair that if I was asking them to step back, that I should do the same.  I added ‘vacation responders’ to all my email accounts, professed to the social media world that I was taking a break from it.

While I hardly ever have my phone’s volume up, I noticed the ‘notifications’ popping up on my screen over the directions app. almost immediately.  When we stopped, I was tempted to ‘just check’ on those emails or that funny tweet that popped up.  I knew I was going to have to do something drastic.  In fact, when I told my 18-year-old daughter what I had done, she let out an audible gasp.  I deleted ALL of the social media apps from my phone.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger.  I even deleted my email accounts.  Besides the camera and photography apps, my iPhone was basically, and somewhat ironically, a phone.  The chaperones were using a group text to keep in touch between vans and occasionally we had to place a random call, so I left those two apps intact.  Almost immediately I felt the relief, but also a bit of anxiety.  The word ‘addiction’ gets thrown around pretty loosely.  I don’t think I’m addicted to the phone, but I have been conditioned to pick it up every time it vibrates, ‘just to check.’


One of the many beautiful art pieces at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

Why did I delete the apps?  Mostly because I have so little self-control.  I knew that if they were on the phone, I would look.  At first just, a peek, but soon  full-fledged minutes would turn into hours and so on.  Why not just re-load them?  Well, that’s a good idea, but that would have taken time and by the time I had the ‘need’ to check notifications, the need had passed.  So, I embraced the void.  I figured if something earth shattering happened, I would find out soon enough.


The soaring sanctuary of Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

Unfortunately, some horrible events DID in fact happen.  There was an attack in France and shortly thereafter there was another shooting of police officers.  We were alerted to the possibility of violence in major cities across America following these shootings.  I had told the other leaders about my social media ‘fast’ and they were monitoring events.  We shared the bare bones of the events with the students that evening as we gathered.  Seeing their faces reminded me how we ‘used’ to get bad news.  Because we were all essentially processing it together, we had time to reflect, cry and pray.  I think we miss much of this in our 24/7 connected world.  By the time one event hits the news cycle there is another event happening.  We don’t’ have time in this ‘modern’ world to grieve.


The baptismal font is large and centrally located at the Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

As the week wore on, I noticed that I didn’t even really miss the facebook updates or countless photos of friends children or vacation images.  In fact, I actually found time to read.  Not as much as I would have liked to, but given the fact that I had 34 noisy teenagers around me all of the time, that I read at all is a miracle!


Detail of a building at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

I won’t lie. I was very anxious to re-load the apps and check in with my social media accounts.  Somewhat disappointedly, I must say that nobody ‘needed’ me.  Nobody offered me a book deal, that part in the new action film, nor had I won any lotteries.  In fact, there actually very few emails or updates on my accounts.  I’d like to think that it was because I told everyone I was offline, but I think that the actual reason is that I’m just not as important as I would like to think I am.  I say that not in a disparaging way, but in an honest and humble way.  The world will turn.  The sun will rise.  All without me.


One of the structures at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

And yet, despite the fact that I wasn’t ‘missed’ on social media, I made memories that I will never forget; even if I didn’t document them with a tweet, gram or post.  You could say I got to time travel because I saw the ‘future’ in the faces of the youth.  I spent countless hours with them singing, praying, working and sweating.  The future is indeed bright!


The General Motors Building in Downtown Detroit, MI.

How can you manage your social media ‘addiction?’  Well,  Ibrahim Husain’s POST on Lifehack has some fantastic tips, a couple I would like to highlight.  First, he states that you have to acknowledge you have a problem.  Use one of the many trackers to monitor your use.  MOMENT is one of the best in my opinion.  After you acknowledge this, you can start working to curb your addiction.  Husain suggests deleting many of the apps from your phone, permanently.  Do you really need Facebook and Twitter on your phone?  I personally have found that using an interface like TweetDeck helps me efficiently monitor and learn from my Twitter feed.  Haven’t found anything similarly for Facebook.  For now, I’m limiting myself to it by using a timer.


The beautiful organ at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmingham, MI.

I DID make a few changes as I re-loaded those apps back to my phone.  The first is that I turned off ALL notifications except a few key apps (text messaging and calendars).  I will NOT get notifications of new tweets, or posts to Instagram and Facebook.  I won’t even get notifications of email messages. I am sure I’ll miss a few emails late at night or early in the morning.  I apologize in advance to you if that happens. Who knows, hopefully, I’ll find some time to let my mind drift; it is in that kind of moments I find I do my best thinking.  Maybe my monumental stack of books next to my bed will gradually shrink!


The whole crew gathered along the river walk in Detroit, MI.


My New Blog!

For over four years I’ve been blogging on the blogger account called A Zen Librarian.  I’ve loved the simplicity of the blogger platform but have been hobbled by a misplaced password that I no longer know.  I couldn’t change the layout, but I could post.  So, I just dealt with it, but I’m finally making the change to a grown up blogging account on WordPress.  So, A Zen Librarian is now moving up in the world.  I’m sure there are going to be many stumbles as I learn a new platform, but I can already tell that this one is going to grow along with me.  So, for all of you who have been reading my old blog, thank you!  I hope that this one will be even better!

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.25.50 PM