“I started my own business, National Marketshare Group, Inc. in 1983 with the knowledge that we would be investing in the community where we worked. It wasn’t an option – I was raised to know that “giving back” was an obligation not an option. Early on, we wrote checks to contribute, but as the company matured, we came to realize that we needed to be more involved in the neighborhood where we spent so many hours of our working lives. In 2003, I asked the team to identify a project that allowed us to make a meaningful impact.
We focused on Oyler Community Learning Center, just a few blocks from our offices in Cincinnati’s Lower Price Hill. Simply put, we had a lot to learn about the way urban school children were living. At the time, 100% of the school population received free or reduced-cost school lunches; nearly a third of the students were either homeless or their families struggled with housing stability; two-thirds lived in a single-adult household and 21% had special needs. Beyond the statistics, though, we came to appreciate the daily mental and emotional struggles of children living in poverty.
Recognizing that there was a need for more positive support. We decided to zero in on offering the students a vision of what they could achieve once they earned a high school diploma or college degree. It began with a pen-pal project involving a fifth-grade class and soon our employees were engaged in discussions about workplace expectations, the importance of finishing school, the concept of work ethic and students’ visions for their future.
After that first year, I realized this model could easily be replicated so we sought out other businesses to partner with Oyler. By the end of the 2004 school year, every single one of the 670 students had been “adopted” by a business or community group. And then the idea gained tremendous momentum. Today, Adopt A Class is a Cincinnati-area non-profit organization focused on facilitating personal, sustained connections between those in the business community and students from pre-K through 8th grade. Adopters from 300 local businesses and community groups have worked in 32 local schools, mentoring more than 6,000 students to improve academics, build relationships and elevate social skills.
Along the way another positive outcome emerged – the adopters tapped into new leadership and team-building skills some didn’t know they had. They also developed very positive perceptions of their employers, a strong characteristic of companies who retain top talent.
There is plenty of data that demonstrates the impact of these mentors. Hopefully the countless cards, inspirational stories and thank-you letters the mentors have received are at least as meaningful. To our partner businesses, schools and civic groups – thank you for all you’ve given to make a difference in the life of a child.