In 2020, the Los Angeles Chargers started the First Down for First Books program which provides local elementary schools $100 worth of books whenever the Bolts get a first down courtesy of the Chargers Impact Fund.
So far this season, the Chargers have donated $27,800 worth of books to those schools to emphasize the importance of literacy.
Just last week, the Chargers joined Western Governors University to donate books to Heninger Elementary in Santa Ana. In support of Salute to Service month, the books were themed around George Washington and the Tuskegee Airmen.
"We feel so fortunate that we're able to be in the community," Susie Spanos, who was part of the event, said. "It's important to us because we make a difference. There's nothing like seeing the look on the kids' faces when they learn something, and you know you changed their life that day. It's the greatest feeling on earth."
Studies show that second grade is a critical turning point in reading literacy, as students who fall behind in reading comprehension before third grade are more likely to struggle academically later in life. The books were donated to second graders to Heninger for this very reason.
"It's so important to ensure that our kids have the tools and resources to ensure they succeed in life," said Michelle Dominguez, coordinator of community relations for Santa Ana Unified School District. "Starting them at a young age is critical. So we're happy to have the opportunity with the Chargers and grateful to have this event."
The Chargers Impact Fund hosted a literacy event for the second grade class at Heninger Elementary in Santa Ana. Cornerback Michael Davis and Running Back Justin Jackson joined the Western Governors University volunteers and Playmakers to interact and read to the kids while teaching them the importance of literacy.
A bonus to this program is having Chargers players host monthly reading sessions with the students. While those reading sessions were virtual in 2020, they've returned in-person in 2021, and Spanos along with Amy Staley joined cornerback Michael Davis and running back Justin Jackson at the event.
"I was pretty nervous!" Davis said. "This was my first time reading to young kids but it turned out pretty well. The kids were pretty excited. I think they enjoyed it and learned some stuff from it."
"It was really cool engaging with the kids thinking back to my seven and eight year old days," mentioned Jackson. "It was really fun and really cool to be around their energy and authenticity. Obviously they're reading the book, but they're interacting with us and it can really make their day. They get to go home and tell their friends they saw Chargers players and read with us. It's a really positive experience for them. I'm really glad we were able to do it and as much [fun] as it is for them, they give that much back to us as well."
For Staley, a former elementary school teacher who earned her masters in reading at John Carroll University, being part of this event was truly special.
"It's super important to encourage literacy and promote literacy in the community," Staley said. "It starts so early and it needs to be encouraged continuously throughout their education, so it's fun to see where these second graders are. The best part is always being with the kids. They were excited and curious. It's always fun to see kids be excited about reading and being part of it is just an honor."
For more information on First Downs for First Books, visit chargers.com/books.