By Kimberly Crane
Amid the cozy hum of washing machines and dryers, there is now a special place in Ewing Township where children can relax with a book while their caregivers do laundry.
On March 4, the Wash and Learn program at Laundry Depot of Ewing on North Olden Avenue was launched during a high energy grand opening. All who attended left with a book in hand.
The event boasted many sponsors including the Ewing Township Education Association (ETEA), the Mercer County Library System, the Ewing Township Police Department, the Ewing Township Fire Department, The College of New Jersey, the Trenton Thunder and numerous other contributors.
Jesse Ambriz, a Fisher Middle School special education math teacher, is responsible for the creation and success of the program.
Ambriz was inspired to start a Wash and Learn after hearing BookSmiles Executive Director Larry Abrams and former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton speak at the NJEA Convention in November 2022. Both speakers emphasized the importance of making books accessible to children to support literacy.
“Many people in our community do not have access to books for their children,” Ambriz said. “I needed to do my part to take action and change that.”
Ambriz then led a holiday book drive resulting in 9,500 book donations to BookSmiles. Encouraged by the turn out, he reached out to Laundry Depot owner Sean Spicer and began gathering sponsors. In addition to hosting the literacy center in his business, Spicer donated $500 to support the project.
Wash and Learn programs are becoming more common in New Jersey and across the country. They are a great way to get books to kids. Ambriz took note of the recent Wash and Learn in New Brunswick prior to starting a program in Ewing Township.
“Clients return weekly and wait an average of 90 minutes for their clothes,” Ambriz said. “Literacy stations with books to take home give children something educational to turn to while they are there. Having books will help kids start their own libraries.”
In communities like Ewing Township, where the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches is high, a Wash and Learn program can help inspire a love of reading and promote pathways to lifelong literacy.
For more information about the program, or to learn how to donate books, contact Jessie Ambriz firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Crane is an art teacher in the Highland Park School District, 1st vice president of the Highland Park Education Association, and an NJEA Communications Consultant.