The 7-Eleven library -- creative Fresno owners show they care

The Fresno BeeNovember 26, 2013 

For Brian Morin, 11, an extraordinary gateway to "adventure" lurks within an unusual place: the corner of a room in a central Fresno 7-Eleven convenience store.

Brian usually stops by five days a week to check out books from a children's library inside, created by store owners Sushil Prakash and Josephine Kiran as an incentive to get children in the neighborhood excited about reading.

The catch to lure kids? A free Slurpee or hot chocolate for every book read and summarized in a short book report.

The public library is far away, and checking out books at the 7-Eleven is a "double treat," Brian said, because he loves reading and Slurpees.

"I hope that it lets other people learn that reading is fun, because a lot of people don't like books," he said. "I enjoy the adventure of reading -- it's like an adventure in my mind."

Kiran, an avid reader, came up with the idea for the library -- the first of its kind in 7-Elevens nationwide. The company's vice president visited two weeks ago to explore how other libraries might be added in stores around the country, Kiran said.

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, stopped by the store Tuesday to present a certificate of recognition for extraordinary service.

"When members of the community do things like this, it instills a lot of neighborhood pride and it shows that they are more than a business -- that they care about the community, that they want to give back," Perea said. "I hope this turns into a trend."

The convenience store opened in May, but Prakash and Kiran have operated another 7-Eleven in southeast Fresno for 10 years. In January, they received 7-Eleven's highest honor, influenced by years of community service. The Fresno City Council also honored Kiran, designating Feb. 14, 2013 "Josephine Kiran Day."

Kiran said the greatest reward is watching children walk around with a book in hand, instead of a video game.

The library, which started Aug. 1, already has about 200 books. Nearby Hamilton Elementary School has helped, donating $300. Teachers at the school also volunteer to label books by grade level -- which has helped deter older youths from reading far below their grade level as a ploy to snag an easy Slurpee.

Jeff Crow with Central Valley Talk Radio has been promoting the library, and donated a dozen books Tuesday.

"I grew up in this community -- I've seen how the standards of educational disparity between this part of the school district versus the northern part has gotten wider," Crow said. "He's (Prakash) a very good, responsible corporate business man -- how a business person should be, giving back to the community."

Prakash's desire to create the library is rooted in this idea: "The first step to a healthier lifestyle is literacy."

Corporate employees with 7-Eleven also stopped by Tuesday to honor Prakash and Kiran.

"They bring the neighborhood together," said Fred Wallace, a 7-Eleven marketing manager who oversees 91 stores from Modesto to Bakersfield.

Consultant David Orozco added the couple has taken their work "outside the box" of what is normal.

Their community-minded approach to business will continue Dec. 20-21 with a free visit with Santa Claus from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at their store on the corner of North Fruit Avenue and West Clinton Avenue.

Kiran and Prakash got a lot of inspiration for the library from their 8-year-old son, Suraj Prakash.

Suraj said his parents want to help children "be smart and have A's on their tests."

"I love my mom and dad and they also love me," Suraj said. "I think it's nice that children can learn and write and read, just like my dad."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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