Orlando Magic Baskets for Books Program Presented by Florida Blue Helps Youth Get Ready for School

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – What NBA players do during the summer months to improve and stay fit often determines how sharp they will be when it’s the middle of the winter and they’ve already played in 40 or 50 games.

All the grueling practices, long road trips and short turnarounds between games can burn them out if they didn’t prepare properly during the offseason.

The same logic applies for kids in school. How they spend their summers and what they do to stay focused on their academics often has a major effect on their performance in the middle or late semesters of a school year.

One proven, and enjoyable, way students can avoid wearing down is by reading books during the summer.

In an effort to make it easier for children to handle the rigidities of the school year, improve their overall literacy and comprehension skills and reward them for their commitment to education, the Orlando Magic and Florida Blue, as part of the Baskets for Books program, participated in the Orange County Library System’s (OCLS) Summer Reading Celebration on Saturday at the downtown Orlando Public Library.

Staff from both the Magic, including Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw, and Florida Blue joined in on the fun by handing out prizes and partaking in the event’s festivities.

“If you can get them to read at least a couple hours a week (during summer) it will help to keep them engaged in learning and reading,” Outlaw said. “Once you get to school, you’re going to read all the time so you’ll still be active in your reading skills. Three months of not reading is pretty rough on kids to get started back up. So, if you can keep them engaged through the summer, it’s very important.”

Throughout the summer, the students who participated in OCLS’ annual program tracked the books they read through the library book-tracking app, Beanstack, where they earned virtual badges and entered contests. The first 200 children who submitted five book reviews online earned a Magic/Florida Blue Baskets for Books badge and will receive two tickets to a Magic home game during the 2018-19 season.

Weekly special events, including live performances, technology camps and classes and group activities featuring arts and crafts, science, animals and storytelling, also took place at each of Orange County’s library locations as part of the summer-long program.

This is the eighth season the Magic and Florida Blue have partnered up to develop lifelong learners through the Baskets for Books program, which was formed several years ago to encourage reading. Last week, with assistance from Magic Community Ambassador Nick Anderson and the Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt Publishing Company, the Magic and Florida Blue helped pack donated books in 750 brand new backpacks for youth from 15 local child-care providers at the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County.

“Lifelong learning for all of us is very, very important,” Florida Blue Market President Tony Jenkins said. “This is a community effort. This is all of us making sure that we are playing our part to help educate our youth in this market. And the Orlando Magic has been doing this for years, and the partnership has just been great because this is an organization that is committed to this effort and we are committed right along with them.”

For every point made by the Magic at all home games, one book is donated to the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County. Since program inception, more than 46,000 books have been donated to the Early Learning Coalition and more than 3,000 books were donated last season with the help of Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt Publishing Company.