Charles Best was once a history teacher at a high school in the Bronx, New York, for five years. In that time he and his colleagues spent their own personal funds to “purchase copy paper and pencils, needed funds for art supplies, and field trips.” In an interview shared for atombash.com, said Best, “I figured there were people who wanted to help if they just knew how to help.” With his first gift, Best found others willing to join in contributing to build a fund that would help teachers at a level that provided maximum transparency, yet required only a minimum of effort to identify the needs and make the gifts happen.
Such was the genesis of the now national phenomenon called DonorsChoose.org, a charitable nonprofit that allows teachers across the country to post their classroom’s particular needs on their website. Anyone wanting to help a particular school, or educational field, or project type, can contribute directly to help that teacher, from the security and convenience of the internet right at home.
DonorsChoose.org is also “the engine powering the partnership with Sonic Restaurants,” Best said. The wisdom and inspiration of one teacher has now grown to a dynamic and substantive nonprofit that has received national acclaim and support. Their website notes quotes from recognized philanthropists, including Oprah Winfrey, who calls it “a revolutionary charity,” and late night talk show host, Stephen Colbert, who notes “You know exactly who you’re helping.”
Forever, it seems, Oprah has been a guiding force in educational giving, to students and teachers alike. In May this year, Colbert, a native of South Carolina, donated $800,000 to South Carolina public schools during Teacher Appreciation Week. The announcement was made “during a conference in New York hosted by the education-focused crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.org, saying that he would be funding every existing grant request on the website” for South Carolina.
For almost a decade now, Sonic Restaurants have been dedicated to improving education in the schools where they have drive-in locations. It’s been seven years since Limeades for Learning Initiative was created in conjunction with DonorsChoose.org. Christi Woodworth, Vice President of Public Relations for Sonic, is a special choice as the point of contact for DonorsChoose.org. She previously worked for the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and Allied Arts (Sonic’s headquarters are in Oklahoma City), so Woodworth has special insight for this project.
Said Woodworth, “Sonic discovered DonorsChoose.org, when we were seeking to support the communities where we have stores. In every community where there is a Sonic, there is at least one school. So we created a program where customers can tell Sonic about where to grant funds based on teachers’ projects on LimeadesforLearning.com.” You may have discovered the website on your own if you checked the brown paper bags your yummy Sonic burgers, dogs, fries, and tots came in and then logged into their web site while you were eating your lunch or dinner.
Sample projects seeking funds are so heartwarming as they are not expensive to fund, and the nature of their simplicity gives you cause for pause at their genuine simplicity. One teacher in Philadelphia asks only for 100 planners for her students, “My students need 100 planners to help them become organized in life and school.”
Imagine how the simple gift of a day planner can help a student see their commitment of time for the week ahead, see when they’re in class, when they can study during the day and when various projects are due. That’s a fundamental skill that is usually just gained by osmosis for the most motivated of students to pick up on.”
Another issue that is very relevant to parents right now is that children live in such a tech-heavy society. For every task in school there is now essentially a device by which to learn. On the plus side the colorful visualization of an electronic screen is inviting, and it does indeed keep children from getting bored. However, one of the fastest skill sets to be learned and forgotten is actually the ancient art of handwriting. Ask an elementary school child how much time they spend with a pencil in his or her hand, and you might well be shocked.
A Limeades for Learning project request in Dallas, Texas, is “My students need 120 composition notebooks, glue sticks, highlighters, scissors, markers and colorful copy paper to create their interactive notebooks.”
Visiting the web site, you see the Sonic timetable, which started in August, notifying teachers of the program, asking for them to submit projects in September, and the month of October is the most important as “Sonic funds the top voted projects on this site every week from Sept. 28 to Oct. 18.” Next month the classrooms will be the focus, as the projects are funded, filled with the supplies they need delivered directly to the teachers.
Great ideas begin with one inspiration and with corporate partners like Sonic, they grow, sustain, and continue to improve the educational opportunities for school children, tomorrow’s leaders in training. Check it out today and see where you can make a difference. Donations of all amounts are welcome.