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Sherri Richards, Published October 23 2010

Businesses partner with schools to give back to community

David Reuter has to wedge his 6-foot-4 frame into the tiny chairs at Lincoln Elementary, but it’s worth it to have lunch with Dakota Brewster.

For three years, Reuter has mentored Dakota through the Adopt-A-School program, administered by the Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation.

Once a week, Reuter, a business analyst with Noridian, has lunch with Dakota, who is now a third-grader. After lunch they play a game, read a book or go outside.

“I feel if you can make a positive impact on a child, it will last a lifetime,” Reuter said.

Through the districtwide Adopt-A-School program, businesses partner with schools across the district in different ways – mentoring, tutoring, reading and volunteering, on company time.

“What the partnership is meant to do is give children an opportunity to meet other caring adults in our community, as well as allow them to see and learn more about careers in the area,” said Carol Johnson, executive director of the foundation.

Those involved with the program say it’s a unique way for businesses to give back.

“People are looking for something more than just coming to work from 8 to 5,” said Tom Dawson, president of Dawson Insurance. Nine employees participate in its Adopt-A-School program with Clara Barton Elementary.

“If we can make their job a little more fun, a little more challenging, give them a little more satisfaction during the day, they’re going to be better overall employees for Dawson Insurance and for the clients,” he said.

The students also give back to the businesses, sending them artwork or going to the offices to sing around the holidays.

The Adopt-A-School program has been in place since about 2002, Johnson said. The foundation is currently seeking new partners – corporations, small businesses or nonprofits – for the program.

Planning teams from the business and the school meet to decide how the partner business could get involved.

Nancy Tisor, school counselor at Lincoln, stressed that the program goes beyond a business making a monetary donation to a school.

“This is about people,” she said. “This is about businesses connecting with the schools. It’s about mentorship, tutoring.”

Twelve Blue Cross Blue Shield and Noridian employees, including Reuter, volunteer at Lincoln through Adopt-a-School.

“It really is about (students) spending time with another positive adult,” Tisor said.

The relationships and community building are also key to Matt Naugle, assistant principal at Clara Barton. He said it’s a great investment by the businesses, as well.

“It opens the eyes of students of what’s available to them, what they can aspire to,” Naugle said. “Anything we can do to increase a student’s identity within a community makes them want to make positive contributions to the community when they’re adults.”

Many of these businesses and their employees also take part in Junior Achievement, another program that brings business employees into the classroom.

Junior Achievement is a nonprofit that works to educate students in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workforce readiness, said Lisa Metzger, district manager for Junior Achievement.

It’s found in 18 area schools, primarily elementary. Volunteers from businesses teach its five-lesson curriculum to kindergarten through fifth-graders.

“The really nice thing about our program, with the volunteers that are coming into the program, they’re able to share their business expertise with the kids,” Metzger said. “They’re able to act as mentors for the students. It’s getting another positive role model in front of the students.”

How to help

For more information about the Adopt-A-School program, contact Carol Johnson, Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation, at (701) 446-1041 or fpsfoundation@fargo.k12.nd.us.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556