West Palm Beach, Fla. – When Nichole Vaughan discovered that giving her time as a volunteer for PNC Grow Up Great could also get money for a local preschool, she thought it was too good to be true.
“I walked out of the employee presentation about Grants for Great Hours thinking, ‘PNC gives the organization a grant and I have paid time to volunteer? It doesn’t get much better than that,’” Vaughan said.
Grow Up Great is PNC’s $350 million, multi-year, English/Spanish initiative that helps prepare children for success in school and life. The program was started in 2004 in response to significant research over the past 50 years supporting the importance of high-quality early education in reducing dropout rates, poverty and crime, and in strengthening the U.S. workforce. To date, Grow Up Great has helped 2.6 million young children.
Vaughan, a property associate in PNC’s realty services department, initially helped to sort donated toys for underprivileged children. But she didn’t know she could earn a $1,000 grant for every 40 hours spent volunteering with a qualified pre-k program. “As soon as I learned about this opportunity, I knew I had to take advantage of it and make it work for others in our community,” she said.
After explaining the program to Tracey Dickerson, a pre-k teacher at Berkshire Elementary School, Vaughan helped the teacher register and began working toward her 40-hour goal. The 18-year employee was encouraged by PNC to get involved with its progressive policy that offers employees 40 hours of paid time off per year for volunteerism.
While many volunteers like Vaughan work directly with children and teachers in the classrooms, other employees help behind the scenes organizing collection drives, repairing classrooms, building bookshelves or “donating” their business skills to the organization.
No matter how employees choose to help, Vaughan emphasizes that their time truly benefits the schools.
“When employees reach their 40 hours and earn a grant for the school, it’s really a win-win for everybody. We all know that teachers sometimes have to spend their own money to keep their classrooms engaging, so all teachers deserve this extra money to pursue their ‘wants’ for the classroom,” Vaughan said.
In fact, when Vaughan reached her 40 hours volunteering at Berkshire Elementary School, she learned that her $1,000 grant would be doubled by PNC because of a special challenge for Grow Up Great’s 10th anniversary. Groups of employees may volunteer as a team and apply for grants up to $3,000.
“When I learned about the grant I was very excited,” Dickerson said.
I saw the grant as a way to extend my students’ learning experiences way beyond what I could afford personally and what I could afford to do with the supply money given to me each year.
After receiving the grant for Vaughan’s volunteer hours, Dickerson was able to buy materials for dream projects she never expected to offer her students. This included lessons about traditional vs. hydroponic gardening in a miniature greenhouse, hatching chicken eggs, learning about cooking with a child-safe induction cook surface and self-directed activities with mini tablets. All told, the Grants for Great Hours program has resulted in nearly $4.7 million in grants to early education programs.
“There just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish all I would like to do with my students,” Dickerson said. “Nichole is a blessing to me in that she is hard working, loves kids and truly enjoys working with the children and me. On top of that, we have amazing projects going all thanks to PNC and the grant we received. The result for the children is exponential.”
As a parent, Vaughan see other benefits. “I see other parents who are unable to volunteer because they can’t be away from work or afford to take time off. I work full time, plus I’m a mother and a wife, so I wouldn’t be able to volunteer if it weren’t for PNC’s policy and support.”
Vaughan’s supervisor at PNC helps her to schedule volunteer time around co-workers’ schedules and major projects. This school year she scheduled two four-hour sessions each month to pursue the grant for Dickerson’s class.
As a volunteer, Vaughan typically works with the kids on their sight words vocabulary, tracking their comprehension and progress by age – and then celebrate the successes.
“When each child reaches a certain level of proficiency, we stop the class and announce that he or she has reached the next level toward their goal,” she said. “It’s really neat to see them progress and watch them cheer for each other.”
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