Community education: Businesses can help schools through volunteer programs

Friday, July 22, 2011
Jackson High School senior Brock Nanney follows along in a book read by second grade student Gavin White in the library of South Elementary School in Jackson. (Laura Simon)

When business leaders volunteer in local classrooms, students gain self-esteem and businesses benefit as well.

Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri, encourages businesses to adopt a volunteer policy that allows employees to take time out of their work day to get involved at local schools.

"There is a need for people to mentor and build relationships with children. The easiest way to do that is during the school day, but that's also the work day," Jernigan said.

The United Way of Southeast Missouri recently announced its "Mobilization Plan for Ensuring the Success of Our Children," which addresses the importance of mentoring.

Southeast Missouri schools offer many opportunities for businesses to get involved in helping educate students, including financial sponsorships, classroom activities and one-on-one mentoring programs.

Dawn Dauer, senior vice president at the Bank of Missouri in Cape Girardeau, is one of 14 volunteers with the bank who teach in the Junior Achievement program at area elementary schools.

The program educates young people about work readiness, entrepreneurship and personal finance with hands-on, interactive activities.

"The children are very, very eager when it's an outsider that comes into their classroom," Dauer said. "It's like Christmas to them. They are so engaged in anything you have to say or share."

The Bank of Missouri also takes part in the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce's Partners in Education program.

This program provides businesses the opportunity to partner with a school to provide them support, both in the form of cash for needed supplies or equipment and volunteer hours at the school.

As part of the Chamber's Partners in Education program, Realty Executives of Cape County has done many projects with Clippard Elementary in Cape Girardeau, from sponsoring a student trip to Jefferson City, Mo. to serving as substitute grandparents for students who don't have a grandparent living nearby. Realty Executives owner Bill Cole said whether his staff was helping at the school's chili day fundraiser or visiting nursing homes with students, it's always a rewarding experience.

For individuals looking to volunteer their time at a local school, one-on-one mentoring opportunities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Read to Succeed program are available.

"Confidence and self-esteem building is the biggest boost for students," said Jernigan. "To have someone encouraging them and praising them along the way and just knowing that someone cares about them."

In the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Bigs and Littles do a variety of activities together, either at school or outside of the classroom. Bigs must commit to a minimum of one year and spend between four to six hours, two to three times per month with their Little. This program is currently available in the Jackson, Cape Girardeau and Scott City areas.

The Read to Succeed program at Blanchard Elementary in Cape Girardeau ended its first year in May and will be expanding this fall to Alma Schrader Elementary, Jernigan said. This program, focused on improving kindergarten students' reading levels, asks volunteers to read to a student for 30 minutes once a week.

"The whole point is that children learn to read, but the relationships they build are a side benefit," Jernigan said.

For more information on ways to volunteer with local schools, visit www.unitedwayofsemo.org or call any school.

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