09/05/2019 Release from the Chris Long Foundation:

Charlottesville, VA - 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Chris Long and six NFL players distributed nearly 80,000 books into the hands of children across the United States in 2019, as part of the Chris Long Foundation’s “First Quarter for Literacy” (FQFL) initiative.

Partnering with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Read by 4th, and First Book, the initiative was designed to get books to children in underserved neighborhoods and encourage family engagement with reading by providing home libraries and community reading spaces. Since the launch of FQFL in October 2018, the initiative has raised over $500,000 and impacted close to 16,000 children in eight states.

“First Quarter for Literacy was designed to raise awareness about the correlation between on-grade reading by 4th grade and long term academic success, which directly impacts future likelihood of breaking the cycles of poverty,” said Chris Long, founder of the Chris Long Foundation. “The next step was to turn that awareness into action. I’m proud that as a group of fans and athletes, we were able to provide nearly 80,000 books to the most vulnerable kids throughout the U.S.”

The initiative first began when Chris Long and his wife, Megan, decided to invest nearly a quarter of Long’s 2018 salary into promoting early literacy among young children. Calling this initiative “First Quarter for Literacy,” Long teamed up with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia’s Read by 4th campaign, ultimately bringing 25,600 books to 5,000 children in underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia. These contributions helped build at-home libraries, as well as create six Chris Long Book Nooks that now serve as neighborhood-based reading areas for families.

Long was not content with helping only Philadelphia, however, and thought the initiative could thrive at a national level as well. As a result, Long challenged fellow NFL players to donate to First Quarter for Literacy, with NFL stars Beau Allen, Andrew Whitworth, Fletcher Cox, Connor Barwin, Malcolm Mitchell, and Kyle Long each joining in the effort.

Long matched each player’s donation up to $25,000 to distribute books in their playing market or hometown. For the national distribution, the Chris Long Foundation partnered with the nonprofit First Book to help select the educators most in need of new books. From there, a special “First Quarter for Literacy Week” was held in four states, with children in Los Angeles, New York City, Tampa Bay, and rural Mississippi gifted with new books. That week saw close to 30,000 books distributed to over 150 schools and programs, with over 5500 children helped.

Following that one week, book distributions continued to be made across America. In Chicago, Kyle Long donated over 12,000 books to over 2,000 children in need in 65 different schools. In Los Angeles, Andrew Whitworth donated an additional 4,147 books in partnership with the Los Angeles Rams on Read Across America Day, helping 1,190 children. Fletcher Cox wanted to help additional schools in Rural Mississippi and donated 2,355 more books, helping 435 additional children. In Georgia, NFL star Malcolm Mitchell and his Share the Magic Foundation joined in the First Quarter for Literacy initiative and donated 7,870 books to 1,574 more children.

“First Quarter for Literacy is proof of the power of partnerships and what we can achieve when we align toward a common goal and march together until that goal is accomplished,” said Bill Golderer, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “Reading at grade-level by the end of third grade is the number one indicator that a student will graduate from high school, making it a critical intervention in the fight against poverty. We are grateful to Chris Long and his team for believing that a unified approach is necessary to create any real, lasting change, and are immensely proud of what we accomplished as part of the First Quarter for Literacy team.”

A year since its launch, the impact of the First Quarter for Literacy Initiative continues to be felt. In Philadelphia, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey was inspired to launch a “Second Quarter for Literacy” campaign, following in Long’s footsteps. In Virginia, First Quarter for Literacy inspired the “Red Zone to End Zone” challenge, with Chris Long donating an initial gift of $25,000 to provide five-book starter home libraries to more than 13,000 kids in need across his home state of Virginia.

"With the Chris Long Foundation, First Book has not only been able to provide books to thousands of kids from rural Mississippi to Los Angeles, we've been able to show kids that people they look up to — Chris and his fellow NFL players — believe in them and in the power of education," said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and co-founder of First Book. "the Chris Long Foundation is letting kids know they are important, and that education is important to their future, and that has an impact we can't measure. We couldn't be more grateful for this partnership."

Books and resources are critical, but scarce, for kids in need. Access to adequate resources is one of the most significant contributors to educational inequality in the United States, but research has identified vast “book deserts” concentrated in low-income communities across the U.S. — with one community having only a single book to be shared among as many as 830 children.[1]

Thanks to the efforts of the Chris Long Foundation, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Read by 4th and First Book, thousands of children across the United States now have access to a collection of books, ensuring that they will be strong readers for years to come.

“We are grateful to our partners who are working tirelessly in our most under-resourced communities to support kids and lower the achievement gap,” concluded Long. “The success of this program is not possible without them. I encourage fans to continue to invest in students because equity in education is the most powerful tool for a better future for all kids and our country as a whole.”