WEA Trust has its roots in serving educators. Primarily, they started by providing insurance. As they grew, they looked to help in other ways. According to WEA Trust’s Kyle Humphrey, “teachers have a heavy load, and we’re here to lighten it.”
When they discovered the Foundation’s Adopt-a-School program, it was a perfect fit for the organization’s roots and mission of being a good corporate citizen. While the partnership started within a committee hoping to set clear, well-defined areas of focus, it took on a grassroots spirit and grew organically. Departments heard about the partnership and created their own ideas out of a desire to be more involved. Jodie Henning, who oversees the partnership at WEA Trust, feels the growth is because it is truly mutually beneficial. “It’s the best part of my job. What you get back is enormous and it’s contagious. It adds value to staff’s lives.”
The employee-led partnership has been driven by staff engagement, not by management or leadership requiring participation. However, this has led to an unexpected benefit. Staff are developing leadership skills and demonstrating higher levels of engagement and satisfaction with the organization. WEA Trust has proven that giving back goes beyond being a good corporate citizen, it genuinely benefits their employees.
Specifically, giving back in the form of hands-on activities was important to WEA Trust. “There is no substitute for your presence with kids,” says Kyle. That’s demonstrated in the dozens of hand-written thank you cards that adorn the walls at WEA Trust. A response and appreciativeness you don’t get just from writing an anonymous.
Bilingual teacher Sarah Niesen, whose third-grade class at Nuestro Mundo piloted a Pen Pal program with WEA Trust employees, emphasizes the intangible benefits to students from the real-world experience of writing to members in the community. Students who struggled with writing became more motivated to improve their handwriting and spelling by having an authentic audience to write to. They were excited about revising and reworking their entries. Students also could not wait to meet the real people behind these letters. One student said “To know someone cares about me and asks about my day, my family, my friends…adults with real jobs outside our school? Wow!”
Sarah expressed that this partnership led to an improvement not just in reading and writing, but confidence in their abilities and desire to become better readers and writers as well. She felt a lack of words to describe the magic of the partnership and the real world connection the students’ experienced. Sarah and Jodie have already started coordinating how this Pen Pal Project and the school/community partnership can continue and expand in the future. In addition to expanding the Pen Pal program from one class to three this school year, Jodie shares that WEA Trust has committed to continue providing healthy snacks every other week at Nuestro Mundo and plans on hosting a second annual Career Fair for fifth graders at WEA Trust offices.
Separately, both Jodie and Sarah note the snowball-like effect the program has had on their colleagues. One idea can gain momentum and have a domino-like impact. Says Jodie, “Just start getting organized, people are good at heart and when presented with an opportunity to help, they will. You really only need a little bit of money and a lot of people who care.”
For more information about the Adopt-a-School program, contact Mary Bartzen.