January 1, 2013

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A Smart Investment

Businesses Focus Charitable Giving on Filling Education Gaps

Peri Kinder

January 1, 2013

Getting involved in the community offers many rewards for companies—enhanced employee morale, valuable community partnerships, great PR, the goodwill of clients and, of course, the satisfaction from making a positive impact. Many companies have pet projects to rally the team around and, increasingly, those projects involve supporting and improving education in Utah.

Last spring, Mary Hegerman, the human resource director at Stonehaven Dental, was brainstorming fundraising projects that could bring much-needed monies into the Alpine School District. The district works with more than 70,000 students and 80 schools in several Utah County communities.           

Hegerman’s daughter was a big fan of the American Girl series that features dolls and stories from different historic eras. After some research, Hegerman learned about the American Girl Fashion Show that raises funds for children’s causes. She decided to bring the event to Utah in March 2012.

The show featured historical and modern fashions for young girls and their American Girl dolls, and the script provided fashion-related stories that detailed the life of the American Girl characters. Nearly 200 people attended the fashion show and silent auction that raised $5,000 for the school district’s reading program, STARS (Students and Teachers Achieving Reading Success).

Besides the fashion show, Stonehaven Dental offers health education scholarships to high school students in the Alpine district and provides free dental work each May for students 14 years old and older.

“We really want to do something good for kids and we’re always looking for ways to give back to the community,” Hegerman says. “These kids are our future. It’s really rewarding.”

As Utah’s schools fall further behind the rest of the country in per-pupil spending, many business owners are stepping up to help educate future employees, customers and entrepreneurs. In a September 2012 report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Utah’s per-student investment was $6,078 in 2011, compared to a national average of $10,425 per student.

With more students entering Utah schools, larger class sizes and stagnant spending, companies are getting more involved with the educational system to enhace the future of Utah’s children and the economic prospects of the state.

Finding a Niche
Chris Thomas, owner of the public relations firm Intrepid, decided to help a different demographic of school children. His company developed The Road Home Apple Tree program which is a four-week campaign to assist the 150 children who live at The Road Home shelter and who don’t have the basic necessities for school.

While The Road Home gets most of its community support and donations during the holidays, very little was being done to help the children staying with their families at the shelter when school starts. With Apple Tree, every child at The Road Home receives a backpack filled with new clothing, shoes and school supplies. More than 5,600 items were collected during the drive in August 2012. Since its inception eight years ago, the Apple Tree project has brought in more than 19,000 articles of clothing and school supplies, helping hundreds of children at The Road Home.

Thomas has discovered that it isn’t just the children benefiting from the project. “[The Apple Tree program] is the most highly anticipated event in our company, even more than the year-end destination party where we fly everyone to Disneyland, or another fun destination,” Thomas says. “It lets the employees work together with a purpose and it makes you grateful for what you have—and makes you realize how easily we could be in the same situation. Having that experience as a team is very bonding.”

The Student Neighborhood Access Program, another project created by Intrepid, encourages children to walk or bike to school three days per week for the first month of school. The company gives away prizes, like bikes and scooters, and $500 is presented to the winning school’s PTA Safety Committee. Nearly 8,000 students participated in the program during 2012.

“The goal is to find a charitable cause and meet needs that are timely,” Thomas says. “Make it relevant and tie it into a company’s mission. When somebody in the community, typically someone underserved, gets a benefit, it’s incredibly fulfilling.”

Investing in the Future
The late Larry H. Miller always knew that being involved with charitable causes was important for a company and its employees. Miller created several education-oriented programs that have assisted hundreds, if not thousands, of students and educators in the state.

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