Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets 2009

Education in Vermont
gives as good as it gets

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Last year in our December issue, we featured, for the first time, a story that highlighted the many and diverse ways Vermont business people give back to their communities. It was, and continues to be, rewarding to realize that, even in tough economic times, generosity thrives.

This year, we take a bit of a different tack as we approach the same subject, but with a more targeted focus. We thought it would be interesting to look at some of the ways Vermont business people contribute to education and, conversely, the ways educational institutions give back to the community.

We gleaned releases sent to us over the year, hoping for enough relevant information on which to base a short roundup story. What we found was enough for five stories! What follows, then, barely cracks the door on the importance of education to our readers and correspondents.

Business-to-education

Contributions take many forms, large and small, from cash to in-kind donations of employee time, products, or services. It’s a game that companies of all sizes can play.

Lorie A. Cartwright, an attorney at Fitts, Olson & Giddings PLC in Brattleboro, volunteered her expertise with Vermont Income Tax Assistance in Brattleboro, which provides help preparing and filing basic income tax returns at no cost to low-income Vermonters. We particularly liked the slug at the bottom of the firm’s release: “Fitts, Olson & Giddings encourages other local businesses to make employee time available to help out in such programs.”

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters gave $200,000 to the National Parks Conservation Association to encourage and empower national park visitors to do their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The grant funds outreach and education at dozens of national parks and their communities and hundreds of schools.

Two banners, a stand-up display, and two new signs with the logo of the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF, a Waterbury Center organization) were among the $15,000 worth of free or discounted sign services and products awarded to charitable organizations this year by Bob and Paula and Diaco, the owners of the South Burlington sign shop Sign-A-Rama. CLiF sponsored a literacy event for families who rely on the Committee on Temporary Shelter for housing. The organization took hundreds of new children’s books to the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington; donated some to COTS for its family shelters, and allowed each child in attendance to choose two books to keep.

Among the education-related recipients of the TD Bank Charitable Foundation’s generosity were Champlain Housing Trust (for its foreclosure-prevention education and counseling program); King Street Youth Center’s education programs; Champlain College ($20,000 to help expand its New American Scholars program; Smart Growth Vermont Inc. (to enhance the online Community Planning Toolbox); and the Greater Burlington YMCA Inc. for its early education and childcare program.

Bergman Design Team of Warren presented the Architecture & Design Film Festival in Waitsfield to benefit Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren. A group of main sponsors was pulled together: Big Picture Theater and Café, Chittenden Bank, Clay Brook at Sugarbush, groSolar, The Architect’s Newspaper, and VickeryHill.com.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 300 provided 300 textbooks with an estimated value of more than $3,000 to the electrical construction class at Spaulding High School-Barre Technical Center. IBEW Local 300 hosts a five-year electrical apprenticeship and Vermont’s only intensive, year-round solar photovoltaic training for electricians.

The Rutland County Parent Child Center Inc. offers parent education and support among its services. This year, it was the winning applicant for the third SymPowered Office Makeover by SymQuest Group. The makeover is valued at $25,000.

Among the beneficiaries of Northfield Savings Bank’s annual contribution of 10 percent of its profits is Burlington City Arts — $1,500 for its See-Think-Do education program to provide in-depth, meaningful arts experiences for approximately 650 at-risk children in greater Burlington.

Education-to-community

New England Culinary Institute collaborated with the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger’s Cooking for Life program to provide cooking and nutrition classes to low-income Vermonters. Since 1999, Cooking for Life has provided such education for more than 4,000 participants. Students in NECI’s bachelor of culinary arts program organize classes and instruct, get to see vital community partnerships in action, and receive instruction in the importance of restaurateurs’ being actively involved in service to their communities. This program is also one of NSB’s beneficiaries.

Hal Colston of NeighborKeepers joined the NECI collaboration by recruiting 13 Bhutanese refugees to participate.

Champlain College has ongoing programs of outreach, some of which honor other contributions. That was the case in two need-based scholarships of up to $20,000 a year in tuition, established in the name of three community leaders and aimed at helping graduates of two magnet schools — The Holly and Bob Miller Magnet School Scholarship for the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes and The Lois McClure Magnet School Scholarship for the Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler.

St. Michael’s College was chosen by United Way of Chittenden County as a Hometown Hero in the business category for its volunteer work. This goes far beyond supplying student internships, says Buff Lindau, the college’s director of public relations and interim director of marketing and communications.

“I think of it as a kind of partnership,” she says. “Students work hard with such organizations as the Refugee Resettlement Program or the Boys & Girls Clubs, but those organizations are also generous in opening their doors to non-professional helpers.”

St. Michael’s students and staff give approximately 22,000 hours of volunteer service to the community every year. College facilities, such as the McCarthy Arts Center recital hall, classrooms, lecture halls, the dining hall, and the Welcome Center, are provided free of charge to area nonprofits and to our senators and congressman for public hearings. Staffed by college personnel and students, all of whom undergo extensive, continuous training, the Fire and Rescue squads provide rescue and fire services to the college and large parts of the county 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The MOVE program, founded in 1988 — a service organization of the Office of Edmundite Campus Ministry — offers 22 locally based volunteer programs ranging from tutoring Winooski schoolchildren and visiting senior citizens to supporting the Humane Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Habitat for Humanity.

A powerful outcome of the college’s attitude toward service is that many St. Michael’s graduates choose service work, teaching, nonprofit organizations, and medicine as careers and consistently add volunteer work to their lives in addition to their regular employment.

That sounds like a good return on investment. •