Todd Hansen’s memories of reading as a kid often involved his fun being cut short. He can remember his mom calling him home from hanging out with friends or the last, intense moments of a basketball game so he could complete his daily reading.
This experience and a desire to help kids learn to read motivated Hansen to start the “Read a book, get a Slurpee” program in a 7-Eleven he manages in Provo on the corner of 300 South and Freedom. Since The Universe reported on the program in March, the program has grown exponentially.
“Kids expect their parents to recognize them for reading a book,” he said. “But it’s way cooler when some random gas station hooks you up with a Slurpee for reading.”
The program provides books to local kids and rewards those who read them with a Slurpee, fruit or a balloon. The books, donated by the United Way and community members, have flown off the shelves of the 7-Eleven. So many books are being read, the 7-Eleven has struggled to keep the shelves stocked.
“Reading is the one most crucial thing in life. Period,” Hansen said. “If you can’t read, you can’t do squat.”
According to Hansen, the program started to peak over the summer. Now they give out 200 to 300 books a week, up from the 20 a day they were handing out during the effort’s early stages.
Kim Hawkins, principal of Franklin Elementary, which is near the 7-Eleven, has seen many students take advantage of the program to their benefit and hopes other businesses will follow their lead.
“Our students need to know how important reading is in their lives,” she said. “Teachers tell them, I tell them, but when they see 7-Eleven encouraging them to read, it takes on a different mindset.”
BYU Professor Byran Korth recognizes the program as a great starting point but points out more is needed to ensure that the excitement is lasting.
“Although we need to be very careful about providing extrinsic rewards to young children,” he said, “such programs can motivate and subsequently encourage many children to discover the world of literature and experience its benefits.”
Parent and 7-Eleven employee Grace Kirby has loved participating in the program, even taking books home to read with her four children before bedtime.
“There’s so many people that love it,” she said. “There’s so many people out there that can’t afford books so they come and get the books and the kids are actually excited to take a book home. “
If Hansen can secure enough donations to keep up with demand, he would like to expand the program by possibly sponsoring read-a-thons or inviting local firemen to come read to children.
“Kids are telling their moms, ‘Let’s go to 7-Eleven and get a book,’” Hansen said. “It turns the tables so the parents don’t have to be the jerks and ruin their kids’ lives by making them read. The kids get excited and want to come in and read a book.”
Hansen encouraged the BYU community to get involved by donating books to the United Way or the 7-Eleven. They can also bring their own children to the store to take part in the program. Hansen said this will help ensure that kids have fonder memories of reading as a kid than he did.