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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Chris Long Foundation, in partnership with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) and in support of Philadelphia’s Read By 4th campaign (RB4), is launching the “First Quarter for Literacy” drive, designed to:

  • put more books into the hands of children in underserved neighborhoods,
  • build excitement and awareness around the role parents and caregivers play in raising readers,
  • call on fans to join in the effort by purchasing books to enable distribution to more kids.

Through The Chris Long Foundation, Chris and Megan Long are investing nearly a quarter of his 2018 salary in launching the drive to increase early literacy among young children. The Longs chose to focus their education philanthropy this season on reading, more specifically by fourth grade, to address the documented connection between 4th grade reading proficiency to long-term academic success and high school graduation. In Philadelphia, almost two-thirds of children entered the fourth grade unable to read at grade level at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

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“We are excited to continue our commitment to education this year through the First Quarter for Literacy drive,” says Long, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles and founder, The Chris Long Foundation. “We are partnering with United Way and Read by 4th, not only to support their incredible efforts to get kids reading on grade level but also to amplify the message about the importance of early childhood literacy while encouraging others to join the effort. The more books we can get in kids’ hands, the more kids have a greater chance of finishing high school, which means greater long-term success.”

The “First Quarter for Literacy” drive will have a local and national component, and the Longs will split financial resources to get as many books in kids’ hands as possible.

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In Philadelphia, the Longs will distribute more than 25,000 books for children in underserved neighborhoods to build at-home libraries, as well as fund the creation of six Chris Long Book Nooks, that serve as neighborhood-based reading areas for families. Fans will also be encouraged to join in the effort and make a donation to purchase books that will build more at-home libraries in local homes. Details can be found at FirstQuarterForLiteracy.org. All books distributed through the drive will include a bookplate with tips for parents on reading habits and developmental milestones.

Throughout the season-long “First Quarter for Literacy” drive, Long will use UWGPSNJ and RB4’s social media platforms to share easy, teachable moments for parents and caregivers to use that can have profound effects on reading and learning. Experts agree that caregivers play a vital role in raising strong readers and successful students, and a critical first step to developing strong literacy skills is having quality, age-appropriate books in the home, or visiting the local library often.

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“Research has shown that all children are capable of making great strides in their reading ability when they have support from adults inside and outside the classroom,” says Jenny Bogoni, executive director, RB4. “We’re thrilled to partner with The Chris Long Foundation and United Way to support even more readers throughout the city, and help elevate the value of developing creative, daily reading routines that fit into every family’s schedule.”

Outside Philadelphia, “First Quarter for Literacy” will support reading proficiency programs in rural Virginia, Chris Long’s home state. The Longs will also offer a match donation up to $25,000 to any player on an opposing road team this year that wants to donate funds to distribute books to underserved communities in their playing market. Former Eagle, Beau Allen, kicked off the matching portion of the drive by giving $5,000 during week two when the Eagles faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the match, The Chris Long Foundation will donate $10,000 worth of books in Tampa Bay. More players will be joining the effort throughout the season, increasing the reach of the drive.

“Megan and I read to our son every day, and we can’t stand the thought that there are kids right here in Philadelphia and nationwide that don’t have books at home,” says Long. “Our goal since last year has been to do what we can to level the playing field for all kids through education. It is clear that ensuring kids are strong early readers by providing books and educating parents is where we can make a meaningful difference right away.”

Families and Eagles fans can get involved and support the “First Quarter for Literacy” drive by visiting FirstQuarterForLiteracy.org for top reading tips, ways to donate books, and more.