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Laundromats Fold In Learning Spaces For Busy Families


We had planned to bring you a conversation with the editor of the conservative website that first published that controversial photo from the medical school yearbook of the Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, but we are having technical difficulties. We'll try to bring you that conversation as soon as we can. But first let's go to the laundromat, where the average visit takes 2 1/2 hours. That time is not easy on working families with kids. But Allyson McCabe takes us to Queens, N.Y., where there is a growing effort to help families use laundry time to get more than just clean clothes.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: The laundry must be done. But if you don't have access to a washer and dryer in your home, chances are that means spending a lot of time at a self-service laundromat.


MCCABE: Nadine Pineda (ph) says that's tough, especially with an active 16-month-old toddler in tow.

NADINE PINEDA: It's - my working schedule is, like, off the charts, so I try to do laundry when I can.

MCCABE: Pineda says most laundromats don't have anywhere for her son to play while she does the laundry. But at Lavanderia XI, there's a comfy couch, toys and lots of books in English and Spanish.

PINEDA: I saw this. I was like, what? I'm like - it's really the first laundromat that I've seen that has a center like this for kids. I think that more laundromats should reinforce this sort of idea not only because it helps the children but because it also helps the parents in a way.

MCCABE: Brian Wallace is president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association. He says there are about 30,000 laundromats nationwide, and families with limited time and money make up a large share of their customers.

BRIAN WALLACE: And they're coming to us with, you know, anywhere from, you know, 50 pounds of laundry to maybe a hundred or even a couple hundred pounds of laundry, depending on the size of their family.

MCCABE: All that laundry can run hundreds of dollars a month. So Wallace's trade group formed a foundation to sponsor events, like free laundry days and food giveaways. Eventually, it started giving away books, and that sparked an idea. Last fall, it partnered with Libraries Without Borders and a Clinton Foundation program to bring learning spaces into laundromats. Queens Library outreach assistant Hal Schrieve says the new space allows families to use laundry time to boost learning, literacy and more.

HAL SCHRIEVE: A lot of times, families are here and focused on chores, and maybe kids are, like, watching the TVs or just kind of, like, hanging out. And I think the goal of this space, too, is to make sure that kids' time in laundromats is being used to do creative things or to learn and to give families time to interact with each other.

MCCABE: Families like the Ramoses (ph), who come here every week.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We have a laundromat around the corner of our house, and we travel six blocks just to get to this particular one because of the space, so...

SCHRIEVE: (Singing) I and J and tag-along K all on their way up the coconut tree.

MCCABE: On a recent Sunday morning, a group of kids gathered to hear Schrieve lead a reading activity while others played with puppets, blocks and literacy-themed coloring pages.

SCHRIEVE: (Singing) Chicka-chicka, boom boom. Will there be enough room? Look, who's coming. Can you read these letters?


MCCABE: Laundromat owner Jose Almonte says the learning space has given him an edge over nearby competitors, a win-win for the community and his business.

JOSE ALMONTE: The kids run to that area to play, to color. I mean, it's entertainment.

MCCABE: As the pilot expands this spring, similar programs are planned at laundromats across the country, all part of a growing effort aimed at meeting busy families where they are.

For NPR News, in Queens, N.Y., I'm Allyson McCabe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allyson McCabe