A Provo 7-Eleven is now offering a sweet incentive for local children to read more books. The store at the corner of 300 S. and Freedom Blvd. has a program allowing children to take home a book home, read it and return it for a free Slurpee or treat.
The program has only been underway for a few weeks, but the word is spreading quickly. Local children who do not live close to a library now have a new location to get reading material. Todd Hansen, the 7-Eleven franchise owner, is involved in this program for that exact reason.
Hansen said he had never read a book cover to cover and was the typical high schooler who read half the book then finished the accompanying book report by watching the movie version. However, he has always been an active member of the community and has always looked for ways to help improve it. After meeting with representatives of the United Way, Hansen knew encouraging children to read would be his next act of service.
Hansen started avidly reading about nine months ago and knows how much it has changed his own life. He felt that children need this same empowering feeling for their own growth.
“I do this program because leaders are readers,” Hansen said.
The overall goal of Hansen’s program is simply to get more books into homes.
“I want to get as many books in homes as we can. If a book sits on your shelf long enough, you will eventually pick it up and read it. If I can get people to have enough books in their house, then they will probably start reading,” Hansen said.
Hansen is the only 7-Eleven that currently has this program, which is supported by the 7-Eleven corporation. In addition, the media have given the program lots of attention. Hansen has been interviewed by numerous media outlets in Utah, along with the Albany Times, San Francisco Chronicle and newspapers in Ohio and Seattle. The program has been running for about six weeks, and Hansen said the store gives out about 30 books a day.
Hansen has received some criticism for rewarding children with the famous sugary drink, but he assures parents it is not about the reward, and there are many options.
“We give out bananas, apples, oranges, balloons, high fives, whatever they want. I’ll do whatever it takes to reward someone for engaging in a good activity. The largest key to success is recognition,” Hansen said.
Amy Hall, a 7-Eleven employee, supports this new program and says she enjoys coming to work every day to see the excitement in the kids. The children do not have to report back on the book, but employees will often talk to them about what they read. Hall says she loves hearing from children of all ages. She noted the older kids are usually more willing to give a summary, whereas the younger children need to be prompted. For Hall, the excitement never gets old.
“It’s so much fun. I love kids, so I love to see them so excited. You can just see them brighten up and bounce over to the books,” Hall said.
For many children, the reward of a treat is not even the best part of the experience.
“Some children are more excited for the Slurpee, but there are a couple that don’t even hear me when I say ‘Slurpee,’ they just see the books and run over with excitement,” Hall said.
Hall and Hansen would like to see this program not only implemented in all 7-Elevens, but in as many local businesses as will support it.
Emma Corbett, an elementary education major from Southlake, Texas, is currently a first grade teacher in the Provo School District and thinks this program will be a needed boost for children who choose to get involved.
“I think this is a wonderful idea. Students need literacy support from more than just their teachers and parents,” Corbett said. “It is encouraging for them to see others in the community outside of the classroom encouraging the importance of reading,”
Corbett is eager to spread the word because she feels her students and their parents would be excited to get involved. Corbett says most of her curriculum is based around reading. With more rigorous reading programs being implemented at schools, Corbett is often worried for children who are struggling to keep up. She thinks anyone who encourages children to read is giving them a valuable resource.
“We need much more support from outside the classroom. I praise people like Todd Hansen who see the need to encourage literacy in our community,” Corbett said.
Hansen encouraged BYU students to get involved by donating books to the local United Way, or to local 7-Elevens. He hopes his own involvement, and the support of the community, can improve literacy locally. He hopes children will find the joy of reading even more sweet than a Slurpee.