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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Blue Manatee Project Transforms Business into Non-Profit

Amanda Kranias and Kevin Kushman - both of Indian Hill -  are the new leaders of Blue Manatee Literacy Project (BMLP), the nonprofit literacy enterprise that incorporates The Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore as part of its mission.

By Cathy Hollander

Amanda Kranias and Kevin Kushman - both of Indian Hill -  are the new leaders of Blue Manatee Literacy Project (BMLP), the nonprofit literacy enterprise that incorporates The Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore as part of its mission to provide resources, support and experiences to disadvantaged young students across Greater Cincinnati. They presented this "reinvention" vision of the Oakley store in January 2019 to Sandra Gross and Dr. John Hutton, owners for the previous 17 years, and opened in April.

Not only does the store remain in Oakley where it's been a presence for thirty years, BMLP continues in its role as a specialized venue for children's literature and experiences. Selections in the store favor picture books, board books, and grade school favorites, but the store has expanded to offer young adult and adult bestsellers. BMLP knows that books are a family experience and emphasizes that by providing options for all ages. It also has expanded to promote literacy in the Greater Cincinnati area.

In developing the BMLP mission, Kranias and Kushman consulted educators, reading and early childhood experts, and physicians in their development of programs to serve at-risk children. The concept to use the bookstore as an engine inside a literacy enterprise was sparked by Kushman's first-hand experience mentoring struggling readers at Oyler School in Lower Price Hill.  They saw the lack of consistent access to books and support that creates a student's foundation in reading and wanted to address this. 

The partner schools that BMLP works with typically have 90% or more of their students enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program. Some children across the focus communities come to school with challenges such as malnutrition, family trauma, and transient living situations.  BMLP intends to remove as many of the resource and support barriers as possible so that all young readers, regardless of background, may build their skills. 

Miami University intern Bea Newberry toting cartons of precious books.

When someone buys a book at BMLP, another book is donated to a child in need. The "Buy a Book, Give a Book" program goes beyond shipping books to schools.

"We don't just dump random books at the school and take off," said Kranias. For example, the BMLP "Near Peer" program pairs 5th and 6th graders with kindergarten and 1st graders weekly to focus on reading skills and to build confidence in schoolwork generally.

The program launched at Oyler School and Rothenberg Academy integrates book choices that are culturally appropriate for the student and "meets them where they are" from a proficiency perspective. Building a value and comfort for reading, reinforced by as many advocates as possible, converts to engagement and enhanced skills to grow as a reader, knowing there's help along the way.
BMLP continues to serve the area that Hyde Park Living reaches as well as the Greater Cincinnati community with events for children. Their mission is to inspire a love of books and learning. They provide experiences in foreign language, nature, art, reading, and author/illustrator visits. Their knowledgeable staff - called ManaTeam members - is available to listen and then recommend the best book to serve the children and their families as well as lead storytimes for infants to age three or for toddlers. 

Award-winning children's author Will Hillebrand does the honors reading one of his beloved books.  

Close to 40% of disadvantaged children in Greater Cincinnati schools enter kindergarten struggling to read at grade level, with 3/4 of those students remaining at similar risk by grade 3. kindergarten, in
While Kranias and Kushman work closely supporting one another and serving as sounding boards as they make decisions and develop programs for the Blue Manatee Literacy Project both within the store and in the community, Kranias brings her experience as an operational specialist with years of working with non-profits to her job as Executive Director of Blue Manatee Literacy Project. Kushman serves as the Board President of the nonprofit while continuing to work as the President of Integral Analytics.

While they didn't know each other before Sandra and John introduced them, together they are changing the way our most underserved children experience the reading journey and unlocking the students' potential. They plan to act as catalysts among Cincinnati's literacy-focused groups, to collaborate and boldly innovate new solutions going forward.

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