An Investment in Children’s Future Success

PNC invests in early childhood education through grants, employee volunteerism, awareness-building and advocacy as part of its Grow Up Great program, now in its eleventh year.

PNC POV spoke with Sally McCrady, director of community affairs for PNC Bank and president and chair of the PNC Foundation, to learn about Grow Up Great, PNC’s $350 million, multi-year, bilingual early childhood education initiative.

POV: What is Grow Up Great?

McCRADY: This is a program to improve early childhood education, and what we consider to be our signature cause for the company. The PNC philosophy has always been that we’re only as strong as the communities where we do business.

After extensive research and employee input, PNC made a major commitment to early childhood education through the 2004 launch of Grow Up Great and Crezca con Éxito, an initiative to help prepare children – especially underserved children – from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

POV: What are the main elements?

McCRADY: With Grow Up Great, we wanted to create a successful program that was multifaceted in its approach. We identified four key areas which form the major components.

First, through grant making, we support meaningful educational activities for children, professional development for preschool teachers and lessons for parents and caregivers to use outside of the classroom.

Since 2004, PNC has distributed more than $137 million in grants to Head Start and other early childhood education initiatives. Our grant making is focused on programs in science, math, the arts and financial education.

preschoolers enjoy an activity through Grow Up Great

Our second area of focus is employee volunteerism. Their support augments the resources of early childhood education centers by assisting teachers, sharing their professional skills, helping with school maintenance and assisting in drives for classroom materials and children’s personal needs. So far, more than 61,000 PNC employees have volunteered about 747,000 volunteer hours. In addition, employees have donated more than a million items, ranging from books to mittens, for the children.

An equally vital third component is our awareness campaign. Through it, PNC builds recognition for the value of early childhood education. These efforts have garnered approximately 7.2 billion media impressions, ranging from news articles to billboards, since the program’s inception.

Sesame Workshop, one of our earliest partners, created the award-winning ‘Happy, Healthy, Ready for School’ educational multimedia activity kits for Grow Up Great. PNC has distributed more than 3 million free kits to children and families. The kits are available in every PNC branch.

We also offer two free, educational mobile tours which we take to schools and community events. The Mobile Learning Adventure (MLA) is a traveling exhibit that provides an opportunity for parents and caregivers to learn about the importance of early childhood education while they engage in fun activities with their children.  The Growing Up Great Together Under One Big Sky mobile planetarium features an inflatable dome that introduces children to the night sky while forging cross-cultural connections. It also was created by Sesame Workshop and its partners, with major support from the PNC Foundation.

PNC is a leading corporate voice on early childhood education. This advocacy comprises our fourth component. We accomplish this by leveraging our influence with the business community, policymakers and other key influencers to elevate discussions about the importance of access to quality early childhood education.

POV: Please elaborate on the partnerships.

McCRADY: At PNC, we understand we are bankers, not educators. Our partners have been immensely valuable in guiding our efforts and creating content for our programs.

I’ve already mentioned the central role of Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame StreetTM helping all kids grow up smarter, stronger and kinder. An equally early and important partner is The Fred Rogers Company – producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. It has developed a successful volunteer orientation program for PNC employees. In addition, it helped create tips that show parents and caregivers how to turn every day moments into learning experiences.

National Head Start Association is a non-profit, national association that supports Head Start programs. It offers a wide variety of services and programs designed to directly enhance the operations of Head Start and help its students, parents, and staff.

We get guidance from an Advisory Council of national early childhood experts from academia, medical professions and not-for-profit leaders. Together, they provide expertise and introduce us to the latest developments and studies impacting early childhood education

volunteers working with children

POV: Will the program continue to evolve over time?

McCRADY: With Grow Up Great, we are always thinking about how to keep the program fresh and relevant.  We are currently working on the program’s strategic plan for the next three years.  Part of that includes gathering feedback from key stakeholders on how the program could evolve to be more impactful.  In addition, we want to increase community engagement in the initiative and enhance the skills-based component of our volunteerism program.


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Sally McCrady says more than 61,000 employees have volunteered as part of Grow Up Great

One of the most memorable moments was a few years ago, when our science and education partners brought a number of teachers from across the U.S. to Philadelphia to share best practices in teaching preschool science. Their pride was evident in the displays they created and their tears as they spoke of their impact on underserved children. They thanked PNC for helping them in the classroom and renewing their enthusiasm for what they do. Knowing that we were helping make a difference is a moment I’ll never forget.

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