President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton meet with Jane and Scott Wolfe, who transformed their New Orleans restaurant and laundromat into a vibrant space where families can bring learning activities into their everyday lives. Photo taken in 2019.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — It’s an overcast and humid October morning at the crossroads of the 7th, 8th, and 9th wards in New Orleans, where the founders and staff of Melba’s PoBoys and Wash World are bustling in anticipation of the arrival of some very important customers.
This isn’t an ordinary laundromat. In fact, the owners, Jane and Scott Wolfe, like to think of it as a community center. On one side of the store, workers are frying up po’ boys and mixing ‘red beans and rice’; on the other — staff and family are tidying up and putting the finishing touches on the laundromat’s new “Talking is Teaching” learning space for kids and families. Jane and Scott created the space in partnership with Too Small to Fail so that families can talk, read, sing, play, learn, and generally come together while their loads of laundry are washing and drying.
This isn’t an ordinary approach to early learning. Since 2013, Too Small to Fail has been at the forefront of meeting parents where they are in their busy lives to help them make the most out of everyday moments. In addition to working with more traditional spaces, such as pediatric clinics, diaper banks, Women Infant Children (WIC) clinics, playgrounds, and early child care centers, Too Small to Fail also focuses on reaching parents in places like laundromats, courtroom waiting areas, barber shops, beauty salons, and so many more.
Jane and Scott Wolfe welcomed President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton to unveil their new learning space and show how they integrate literacy, family, and community into their business. Photos taken in 2019.
Families spend an average of three hours a week doing laundry. This time creates a perfect engagement opportunity for parents and caregivers to talk, read, sing, and play with their children. A Clinton Global Initiative commitment between Too Small to Fail and the Coin Laundry Association in 2015 began to engage laundromat owners in this mission — offering member stores activities, posters, free resources, and the technical assistance of Too Small to Fail to help parents and caregivers use this time to engage in meaningful ways with their children.
Since then, Too Small to Fail and the Coin Laundry Association have come together to host free laundry days, connect laundromats with local librarians to arrange story times, and hand out free books, resources, and materials to parents and caregivers nationwide. The partnership has also expanded to include an annual “Laundry & Literacy Summit” — which in 2019 brought together industry and trade leaders, and a commitment to create and scale playful “Talking is Teaching” learning spaces in 600 laundromats across the country to support children’s early brain and language development. And, a study found that children engaged in 30 times more literacy activities in laundromats with a “Talking is Teaching” learning space compared to those without them. These activities are essential for school readiness.
As a member of the Coin Laundry Association and an entrepreneur who has always uniquely focused on social impact, Jane Wolfe’s laundromat routinely offers opportunities for the community by hosting authors, giving out books, and providing free laundry days. When she learned about the “Talking is Teaching” learning spaces, she knew immediately that she wanted to bring this concept to her family’s business. Within a matter of weeks, they had expanded construction on the laundromat that transformed a freight container connected to the store into a cozy, playful learning nook for kids and families.
This particular day would not be your ordinary day. As the laundromat filled up with its steady flow of families and customers around 10:00 a.m., the Wolfes welcomed President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton to unveil their new “Talking is Teaching” learning space and show how they integrate literacy, family, and community into the family business.
The Clintons met with local families, such as Dawnsha Frazier who was there with her young boys — reading new books and coloring pictures for Halloween. They saw how every washer and every dryer provides a learning opportunity for kids — with tips and ideas for how to talk about color, science, math, clothes, and even local heroes. And they had the opportunity to thank the Melba’s and Wash World staff who help the customers feel welcome and make the impact all possible.
New via @NOLAnews: While in New Orleans, the Clintons saw our program that “helps turn otherwise utilitarian spaces…into places where parents and caregivers can read, talk and play with children, encouraging early brain and language development.” https://t.co/GXS2b5OifJ
— Clinton Foundation (@ClintonFdn) November 1, 2019
In an interview that day with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Secretary Hillary Clinton said, “In the world we’re living in now, a business has to go the extra mile to attract customers. That’s how this business becomes a magnet for the community, because there is so much happening here.”
For her part, Wolfe wants other laundromat and small business owners to know the vital role they can play in the well-being of their communities.
“We hit a vein with this, literacy, community, and food,” said Wolfe. “A laundromat can be about so much more than an ordinary load of laundry. You’re there with your family, parents and kids spending time together, we want to make it as extraordinary and valuable as that time can be.”
“We are proud to partner with Too Small to Fail — an important innovator in the field of early learning. This initiative has proven that it is possible to create family-friendly, language-rich environments in places such as laundromats, pediatric clinics, and beauty salons. Too Small to Fail has tested and developed a scalable model to support parents and children in everyday spaces, so parents can turn that almost every activity into an opportunity to learn.”