Vance High student Jocelyn Chadwick once benefited from a Christmas program for needy kids. She returned the blessing this week through a leadership program sponsored by businessman Rob Rogers. Your company can transform our students’ lives, too, says Rogers, who is leading efforts to focus University City’s vast resources on 4,600 students at Governors Village.
That effort now has a name, University Connect, and a small but growing group of people hoping to profoundly broaden learning opportunities at Vance High and the other three schools at Governors Village. “This is a movement that we’ve begun, and we are trying to embrace more and more people. We want to build momentum by linking common hearts,” says Rogers, who owns the Chick-fil-A franchise at nearby University Place.
His decision to help bring the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy to Vance High is just one example of what can happen when businesses get involved with Governors Village, he says. Jocelyn is among 30 students who were selected to take part in the inaugural seven-month program of study and service projects including weekly tutoring sessions at nearby Nathaniel Elementary School.
On Monday morning, Jocelyn and her classmates traveled to the Salvation Army warehouse to sort gifts for children taking part in the CMPD Explorer Post’s annual gift drive. On Saturday, the students will make the rounds with police as they deliver food and gifts to more than 650 of Charlotte’s poorest families.
“Today my class and I volunteered with CMPD (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department) to package toys for less fortunate children,” Jocelyn wrote in an email to UCP. “As soon as I arrived I was very excited. I was so happy to be able to give back because when I was in middle school I was given the gift of receiving this charity. It impacted me so greatly, and I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity.”
What can smaller businesses do to help?
Rogers began envisioning University Connect a year ago soon after he started helping at Governors Village, a cluster of elementary, middle and high schools along IBM Drive just a mile from his restaurant. He quickly saw that the schools have needs requiring far more community resources to address than what a few volunteers could provide. Many Governors Village students come from lower-income families. Important programs that benefit greatly from volunteers and parent donations such as athletics, tutoring and the PTA have struggled in recent years.
Rogers organized two meetings of like-minded business and community leaders to explore how they might help. That led to the launch of University Connect: “A movement of businesses, community leaders, faith communities and non-profits who want to change the way we serve in University City.”
Specifically, the group seeks to focus private resources on the 4,600 students attending four schools in Governors Village “to give these students greater opportunities for an abundant life!”
Long-term partnerships for change
Rogers envisions University Connect as a broad-reaching coalition working hand-in hand with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide coordinated, sustained support for Governors Village students, faculty, staff and families. The group’s most recent newsletter celebrates several examples of how businesses and other groups are pitching in: A clothing and school-supplies drive by Wells Fargo; bikes and basketball equipment from DevelopUs and its owner, Kelly Irons; metal shelving from Patterson Pope; Vance High locker-room makeover by Elevation Church; tutoring and other volunteer services by Northside Baptist Church; and Chick-fil-A University Place donated meals for the Vance football team.
Major businesses and institutions also have reached out to Governors Village, beginning with IBM when the schools first opened. In recent years, many companies including TIAA-CREF, CMC University, UNC Charlotte, University City YMCA and Wells Fargo have provided help to the four schools.
Last March, Electrolux launched a partnership with the Vance Academy of Engineering with a $20,000 donation to buy robotic parts and equipment, computer-aided design technology, tablets and computers. Imagine the impact, Rogers says, “if we had 80 partners at the table to say, ‘ I can help, and here’s how I can help.’”
Recently, University Connect invited some of University City’s largest businesses to form a community corporate council that meets regularly to assess ongoing needs and identify potential partners and solutions. In January, the council will visit each school for a short student-led tour that will include a look at two-three needs they might have the resources and desire to address.
For instance, Morehead Academy, once an elementary school, now has middle-school students but lacks lockers for gym classes and sports programs. Vance High has one of the region’s top football programs but struggles to raise money for equipment, supplies and team meals.
Casto, the owner of Shoppes at University Place, donated $1,000 to help get uniforms, Rogers said. “They need that stuff. They are putting a quality football program in place, and we want to provide the kids with a quality environment.”
Coming soon: a community resources coordinator
Rogers expects University Connect to get a big lift soon, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hires a new community-partnership coordinator for Vance High and the seven elementary and middle schools that feed into it. CMS created the position last year to be the liaison between school leaders and the many businesses, civic groups and faith communities that want to help. “That person will be incredibly valuable to us,” Rogers says. As groups step forward to help, “They can call that one resource person, and that person can make sure that the resource will have a fit.”
CMS is working with University Connect to find someone with the special skills this position requires – a business professional with an educational mindset, says Rosanna Saladin-Subero, Assistant Director of Community Partnerships. “It is very important to have businesses help pick the person,” she says. “We need to know, can they relate? Can they represent the schools to the partners and the partners to the schools?”
This person must also have the ability to reach out to businesses and other groups when the schools have a need. “Often, businesses or groups are just waiting for the personal invitation,” she says.
How you can help
GET THE NEWSLETTER – The University Connect newsletter lists several needs, including gym lockers for Morehead Academy, volunteers to help with a gardening club, and donated technology including iPad carts and Chrome books. You can find out more about University Connect and how you can help by contacting Amanda Kerr at email@example.com. Ask to be included on the newsletter mailing list, too. CLICK HERE to subscribe directly.
REACH OUT TO LEADERS ACADEMY – Audrey-Lee Bost is the Leadership Program Coordinator at Vance High School. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any opportunities for these students.