June 28--FORT LAUDERDALE -- Hundreds of Fort Lauderdale children should not have to worry about keeping busy and mentally stimulated this summer.
That was the expectation Tuesday at JetBlue Airways as the carrier launched its "Soaring with Reading" program at Joseph C. Carter Park on West Sunrise Boulevard, one of several city sites that will distribute 100,000 free children's books this summer through Aug. 31.
Through a partnership with Random House Children's Books, the JetBlue initiative aims to serve underprivileged children living in "book deserts" or places where there is limited or no access to buy age-appropriate books.
Last summer, Fort Lauderdale was selected as the 2017 recipient for the JetBlue giveaway through an online public vote. It's the third U.S. city behind Detroit and Washington, D.C. to receive books through the new vending machine component of the airline's seven-year-old program.
Besides Carter Park, the other vending machine sites are: Osswald Park, 2220 N.W. 21st Ave.; Edgar P. Mills Multi-Purpose Center, 900 N.W. 31st Ave. and Riverland Branch Library, 2710 Davie Blvd.
Children who visit the machines will be able to take as many books as they want and as often as they want to build their personal home libraries at home. Some of the titles are in Spanish.
Lori Canning, executive director for early learning language acquisition with Broward County Public Schools, called the giveaway a welcome tool to combat "summer slide," where children stop learning and regress during their months-long vacation.
"This is by far a unique program and a unique opportunity. I have never seen an organization come in and provide that mass amount of free books," Canning said.
Dozens of children turned out Tuesday for the launch at Carter Park. Actress/singer Victoria Justice, a South Florida native, conducted a reading.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler proclaimed June 27 as Soar with Reading Day and dubbed June 27- Aug. 31, as Soar with Reading Summer.
"It's a gift that will make you smarter, it's a gift that's going to help you to do better in school, it's a gift that will boost your self confidence and self esteem," he told the children.
Seiler lauded JetBlue for "giving back to community, building community and building the next generation."
The airline is the busiest carrier at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, accounting for 24.5 percent of the passenger traffic.
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