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Launchpad to Learning: An Innovative Literary Oasis to End Book Deserts

Our contribution is to reimagine and redevelop underutilized spaces for the purposes of education, culture and peace.

Photo of Karlos L. Marshall

Written by

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Name or Organization

The Conscious Connect Redevelopment Corporation, Inc.


Greater Miami Valley Region (Greater Springfield and Greater Dayton), OH

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Launchpad to Learning aims to establish an innovative literary oasis that is community-driven to address book deserts in urban communities.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Launchpad to Learning demands fundamentally reimagining the collective power of people to transform underutilized spaces and activate untapped resources. Through an asset-based approach and ecosystem of literary access, distribution and opportunity, this (re)development project promotes a commitment to civic engagement, neighborhood beautification and intergenerational collaboration. What we propose is both creative and comprehensive — for early childhood learning and community safety. This yields relationship building, visionary dialogue and strategic planning between a diverse constituency.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Channel: A new way to deliver existing products or services to customers or end users.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

The vision of Launchpad to Learning is to spark a cultural renaissance and neighborhood revitalization movement — by restoring the essence and nuances of urban cultures and communities through literacy. We will accomplish this be engendering a ‘way of life’ and belief that great things happen “where common thought, meets uncommon action.” The Conscious Connect, Inc. is a leading nonprofit dedicated to PK-12 and neighborhood literacy, as the United States' only know grassroots organization—with the primary aim of ending urban book deserts. Our organization reimagines and redevelops underutilized spaces for the purposes of education, culture and peace. Given that we do not operate from a brick and mortar structure, our solutions demand radical creativity and progressive innovations that redefine traditional educational opportunities, structures and outcomes. Given this, we are a ‘street organization’ that works directly in the trenches, meeting children, youth and families where they currently are. Community trust is a linchpin to our organization because Launchpad to Learning is a story that is being co-authored by many different voices, characters and experiences.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We are aiming to eradicate urban ‘book deserts’ by the statistic that two-thirds of children from low-income households lack access to age-appropriate books (1:300), in comparison to age-appropriate book access (13:1) for their middle-income counterparts (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2013; US Department of Education, 2014).

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We want to foster a 21st Century innovative urban education ecosystem — that creates literary oases in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and communities to end book deserts. We define ‘book deserts’ as a geographical area that lacks the access and/or resources to high-quality, affordable, and culturally relevant and responsive print books. We want to ensure that all children, youth and caretakers have access to high-quality, age-appropriate and culturally-relevant print materials within walking distance of their homes. We intent to make literature access omnipresent through our following literacy access points and programs (most of which currently exist to some scale): The Root: Books in Barbershops & Beauty Salons This program has established more than 70 neighborhood literacy stations that contain high quality, culturally-relevant (i.e., books featuring diverse primary characters and/or written by diverse authors) and age-appropriate books in barbershops and beauty salons (and other small businesses) to engage pre-k through 8th grade students through reading. The organization was the first in the nation to extend the ‘read while you wait concept’ beyond barbershops to include beauty salons for increased access to school-age girls. At select locations that are unisex barbershops and salons, a partnership with Dayton Metro Library outreach services enables the restocking of ‘Take It and Read’ books monthly — for patrons of The Root program. 65+ locations of ‘The Root’ currently exist. The Branch: Books From the Barbershops that Go Home This is a partner program with the Dayton Metro Library where ‘Take it and Read’ books are restocked monthly at select unisex locations of ‘The Root.’ Children and families are encouraged to take these books home to build their home libraries. Words On Wheels: A Fun & Innovative Book Bike Program This cargo books can hold nearly 500 books at a time — to deliver books in large quantities to children, youth and families with limited access to quality print materials. The Words on Wheels program serves as a catalyst for increasing the love of reading through creative educational experiences. This was developed through a partnership with the University of Dayton’s Innovation Center and School of Engineering. Houses of Knowledge: Oversized Little Libraries in Urban Neighborhoods These oversized Little Libraries can hold 100 books, HoK) in Springfield and Dayton that promote neighborhood beautification and encourage a multigenerational love of reading for families through direct and non-traditional literacy access points. These HoKs have been placed at community centers, churches, residential homes, schools and revitalized vacant lots. HoKs also serve as community safe-havens to promote peace and inclusion. There are currently four HoKs in Springfield and Dayton with another 12 set to be installed at Springfield City Schools and surrounding areas in early spring. Reading Parks: Where Education & Play Meet to Rebuild Communities These are extensions of ‘Houses of Knowledge’ that incorporate benches, gardening, lighting and signage to redevelop blighted residential lots and beautify high-traffic commercial businesses. This project to create safe and sustainable neighborhoods is an effort between neighborhood associations, nonprofits, local city and county governments. Two prototyped ‘Reading Parks’ exist in Springfield and Dayton. Cutting Illiteracy: Changing the World One Book & One Barber at a Time This is a summer reading program that encourages participating students to read 15 books from any number of our literacy access points to reduce summer learning loss. Students that successfully complete the program received back to school supplies, books and free haircuts from our participating locations of ‘The Root.’ This program is ongoing. Ready.Set.Read.: Racing to the Starting Line of Life and Learning This a partnership with the Dayton Metro Library where they utilize their ‘Book Mobile’ to sign-up PK-8 grade students for student library cards. Parents and guardians are not fined for lost or damaged reading materials with the student card. The ‘Book Mobile’ visits our partnering after school and summer programs monthly for students to checkout and return books. This program is ongoing. Reading Garden: Where Creative Learning Meets Community Beautification & Food Security This is a new a initiative of our organization that partners with organizations that focus on food insecurity. These redeveloped vacant lots will provide simultaneous access to books and food to #EndBookDeserts and end food deserts.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Children, youth and their families benefit from this program because children are the primary beneficiaries. We have interacted with a wide range of partners and directly with beneficiaries to establish our channels. This platform has been co-created by preschools, schools districts, community centers, residents, neighborhood associations, governments, foundations, business and afterschool programs.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

This community-empowered literacy movement is a critical component of changing the national and global landscape of how we see early childhood education and literacy outreach in the 21st century. Launchpad to Learning is a catalyst for viewing access to literature as a human rights concern and childhood literacy as a social justice issue. At its core, Launchpad to Learning could systematically change the role of modern librarianship, business, civic sectors, nonprofits and faith-based organizations in urban communities. Our unconventional services and platforms have already challenged traditional ways of thinking and operating. Small businesses have reconsidered how they engage with the community for literacy, public policy makers have had to redesign building codes and permits to accommodate Houses of Knowledge, civic leaders and librarians have had to evaluate the use of public resources to reach end users and make library cards accessible without the socioeconomic barriers of fines, faith-based organizations have reengaged conversations of service for this century, and elected officials are upstarting change to address blighted structures and vacant lots to grow vibrant communities. By the fall of 2018, we will have the physical infrastructure and community ecosystem to distribute more than 35,000 books annually across Southwest Ohio. The number of books distributed and read on an annual basis by 2021 is expected to be more than 100,000 across Southern and Central Ohio.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Our idea impacts low-income children greatly as they are the primary beneficiaries of all our initiatives, programs and projects. Our organizing is targeted in neighborhoods that are book deserts, which are low-income by nature.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

What makes Launchpad to Learning innovative, disruptive, and radically game-changing is that it is centered within the soul of the people. The Conscious Connect is not afforded the luxury of a brick and mortar structure and this distinguishes not only our programs and initiatives, but more importantly our relationships. We challenge people relentless in creative and fun ways to imagine not what education and learning should be, but what it must be. Our service populations, partners and stakeholders alike allow us to organize, educate and innovate in places that were once forgotten or lost. Placing books in barbershops and beauty salons, installing neighborhood little libraries, or even having a book bike might not be extremely new; but piecing them all together is under one organization, one platform, one mission and one vision to #EndBookDeserts is!!! Time and time again people tell us that they never would have imagined that this would occur in their neighborhoods or communities. Our concept challenges public policies that won’t allow residents to place Houses of Knowledge because of zoning codes, or requiring students to need as much documentation to get a library card that their parents need to vote. We disrupt not to destroy but to rebuild. We seek to inspire hope that is built on the foundation of collective efforts, wisdom and trust. With that in mind, we believe a cultural renaissance with new ideas like Reading Parks and Reading Gardens can — and will occur.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Neighborhoods within this target area have more than 5,500 households, 3,600 family households and 1,800 households with children. Through our work, these households will have access to literary access points through this project, with more than an estimated 14,000 individuals receiving opportunities to literature distribution. As such, the projects will serve low to moderate income families of diverse backgrounds.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Structurally, for an ecosystem to be sustain systematic processes are required. Launchpad to Learning is a collaboration of many programs set in motion under two basic approaches. Internally, we created immediate goals and structure dynamics within the organization. This allowed for very effective task-based approach. Developing partnerships with the community stakeholders is/was a must and initial programs like The Root and Cutting Illiteracy served as test programs to initiate greater community conversations and understanding of our objectives. Given that we have built strong relationships and community partnerships, our programs took form and even expanded despite our limited funding. We placed less of a focus on financial resources at the onset and more on relationship building and sweat equity. We did the groundwork necessary to meet individuals in the community that were willing to prototype our initiatives. Setting attainable goals and evaluating progress and defining success has ensured that we remain(ed) fiscally feasible and operationally sustainable. However, funding remains the single most important source of advancing this project that spans across an entire state region. Externally, there are conditions that directly decide the extent to which our programs have taken form. Programs such as Houses of Knowledge have integrated conversations with local government, school officials, church leaders, and local community advocates. The Reading Park Project is a collective buy-in from local government and private foundations. Words on Wheels was through our work with the University of Dayton who we’ve partnered with on numerous occasions including volunteer opportunities. Our programs have brought together stakeholders in the community to find uncommon ways of seeking solutions to solve a common issue. Moving forward, sustaining a large-scale initiative such as Launchpad to Learning requires greater funding to sustain the oasis because the infrastructure of access points is becoming well-developed. In more recent conversations, we’ve extended our outreach opportunities with two major local libraries to identify expansive efforts to plan next steps in community development and engagement. As an organization, we’ve identified funding and acquiring an office space/ storage facility as the most essential needs moving forward. With more funding we can fortify the needs of the community by maintaining our programs, building valuable empirical and qualitative data banks, covering operating costs, expanding our partners, and placing more books into the hands of those who need them. An office/storage facility would provide us with a base to spark new programs and grow inventory, as we currently house books in our homes, homes of family and a rental storage unit. Continuing to leverage our multifaceted approach through partnerships with community stakeholders has placed us in position to have a maximum impact in the community for the long-term.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Although there are potential barriers which could be a limiting factor in some aspects, there are many reasons why our business can remain a viable in the present and the future. Given that we organize primarily within urban communities, limited financial resources of the population we serve can be a perceived as an issue. Lack of financial resources is a barrier to most if not all nonprofits and we are not immune to that. Despite that, we assess our programs from an opportunities perspective. What our target communities lack in financial resources, they more than makeup for it with creative resilience and resolve that does not exist in more affluent communities. This is the reason our communities have unequivocally adopted our unconventional methods. We identify already established assets within the community capable of bringing diverse skills to the table. This allows for a lot of financial flexibility and has resulted in acquisition of inventory with high financial value. Also, because our programs initiate relationships on all levels from small business owners, to corporate partners and local government, it allows for adaptive approaches with multiple constituency bases to implementing concepts. Launchpad to Learning is a diverse and that comes with a different set of opportunities most notably the dollar value of implementing it. In addition, technology has made social media marketing much affordable to market to engage new stakeholders.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

We have incorporated human centered design approaches by using the IDEO field guide to receive user feedback. We have conducted both formal and informal interviews with end users, in addition to gathering survey results. Utilizing Pathways to Progress as an interactive installation was invaluable. From there, we were able to take participant feedback and put it into prototyping practice immediately. This has led to the deepened relationships in the community, new stakeholders, and new innovations since the challenge started. Further, the user experience map and journey of Tremere showcases the impact that Launchpad to Learning can have on many children. This made or concept extremely authentic, vulnerable, challenging and opportunistic. Children of the future will have access to the Launchpad to Learning ecosystem from birth. The design process allowed us to refocus on the true purpose and mission of organization.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

This concept of The Conscious Connect, Inc. was inspired by purpose, calling and vocation to make a difference in the world. Literature and reading was a very prominent in our lives as children and opened up a world of possibilities as young adults and professionals. The Conscious Connect, Inc. was founded in April of 2015. Upon graduating from college together, we, Karlos L. Marshall and Moses B. Mbeseha, saw a clear need to address literacy in our communities. We started by going to the places where we know people spoke authentically and honestly about the issues facing our communities. This was none other than barbershops and beauty salons. This listening and learning campaign forged the idea of ‘The Root’ which launched in January of 2016. Early childhood learning and literacy truly excites us because people disagree on many things in today’s sociopolitical climate, but early childhood education and community safety is typically not one of them. However, there are many different ways that people can collectively solve a complex and common problem. Establishing a generation of life-long learners is the goal, but that can only be created by first creating a culture of support for early childhood learning and nurturing care. We have extensive backgrounds in neighborhood organizing and revitalization, community redevelopment, creativity, innovation and design thinking in higher education, nontraditional residential care for individual with disabilities, social justice education, organizational diversity, equity and inclusion, and public-private partnerships.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

Yes, we have the organizational partners to achieve what we have described. We have strong partnerships with the School District, City Government, local businesses, local foundations, neighborhoods associations and residents. We have received some financial support in our pursuits through small and mid-sized grants and donations to establish the framework and foundation. However, this amount is not sufficient enough to meet the new demands and requests to expand our work in the community.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

An area of expertise that would most benefit to us would be experts in design thinking, early childhood literacy intervention, marketing and branding, story tellers, global literacy coalitions and foundations, libraries at state and federal levels, technology experts, diverse researchers, business developers, green space architecture, private-public experts. These expertise would help us strengthen our literacy approach and outcomes and develop a sustainable growth model that can reach a large amount of end-users and supporters.

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters) [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

We would like mentoring support regarding the following questions: Is our idea clear? What questions do you still have? What would you change? What was confusing? What suggestions do you have for scalability?

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).


Join the conversation:

Photo of MaryKay Mahar

This concept feels very scalable, with opportunities to embed the Conscious Connect into existing programs and partner funding streams with stake in child literacy in book deserts.

Photo of Karlos L. Marshall

Hi MaryKay,

Thank you for your insights and support of our submission and work. We are currently hard at work to scale this project to sustainability and expansion by increasing funding support with our strategic partners. We will continue to update the OpenIDEO community as we progress.

Much appreciated!!

Photo of Karlos L. Marshall

Hi MaryKay,

Thank you for your insights and support of our submission and work. We are currently hard at work to scale this project to sustainability and expansion by increasing funding support with our strategic partners. We will continue to update the OpenIDEO community as we progress.

Much appreciated!!

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