Kids make a difference - and so can we

Girl in pink dress playing with a balloon
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Kelsey Juliana has been a climate activist since fifth grade, when she led her friends in a march for action at a local park.

At 15 she became co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the government for violating the public trust by promoting fossil fuels. At 18 she walked from Nebraska to Washington, D.C., talking to local leaders along the way. By age 20 she had already touched the lives of thousands of people while sharing her passion for the environment at schools, film festivals and rallies.

That’s the difference just one student can make—and there are more than 570,000 of them enrolled in Oregon’s K-12 schools. As we settle into the back-to-school routine, it’s exciting to think about what great things our students will achieve this year.

Our communities hold a treasure trove of human potential. When children discover they can make a real difference in the world, they become unstoppable forces of nature. We need that. We need their passion and their creativity to build a thriving future for Oregon’s communities.

But it’s up to us to unlock their potential by creating experiences that ignite their curiosity and stoke their excitement for learning.

“Children are our future. We have to take care of them now, because they’re going to become leaders, neighbors and business partners within our community,” said Cherie Kistner, marketing manager for Oregon Community Credit Union. “By taking care of them now, we’re going to create a better community tomorrow.”

As a not-for-profit credit union owned by the members we serve, OCCU works every day to help build vibrant communities with strong economies. Our financial services are just one of the ways we do that. We also partner with other organizations to support local schools and give students the tools they need to learn, grow and live well.

Local Kids Need Our Help

Oregon’s schools, underfunded by $2 billion, are chafing under tight budgets. Teachers are overworked, wrestling with some of the largest class sizes in the nation. And students, one in five of whom live in poverty, are often more worried about filling their empty stomachs than turning in their homework.

In Lane County, for example, more than half of children qualify for free or reduced lunches. More than four percent of students in Eugene and Springfield public schools are homeless.

“The obstacles they face—lack of transportation, health issues, hunger, trauma, constantly changing living situations—make a challenge of getting to school, let alone doing well in class and focusing energies on learning,” said Eugene Weekly.

The bright side is that there’s so much we can do to help. We can give teachers the resources to create innovative learning experiences and help motivate them to keep making a difference in kids’ lives. We can give children snacks to get through the day, school supplies to take some financial pressure off their families, and books to spark their interest in learning about the world.

“Giving students resources they’re not going to get at home is where a real need is,” Kistner said.

Working Together to Support Education

Business leaders throughout Oregon have recognized the need and are responding to the call for help. OCCU works with organizations across the state to help students and teachers through a variety of programs.

Last year alone we funded more than $160,000 in scholarships for Oregon students, donated more than $156,000 in community sponsorships for nonprofits and organizations. We also gave more than$4,500 to local high schools for a total of over $370,000 in community giving in 2015.

Together with our community partners, we support education through programs such as:

Backpacks for Back to School. Every August we help collect donations to provide school supplies for low-income children in Lane and Marion counties. “Starting the year off unprepared and without the basic tools needed to be successful puts many children at an even greater disadvantage,” said Ashely Hensley, community engagement coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul. “The school supply drive helps ensure children have one less obstacle to face and can begin a new year feeling better prepared while easing some of the parents’ burden.”

Gift of Literacy. Each year we help provide a free book to every first-grader in Springfield schools. For many, it’s the first book they’ve ever owned. Since the program’s inception, the district’s reading scores have improved and many students have discovered a love for reading. “Kids see the community is invested and that we care about them,” said volunteer Doris Towery. “Everyone is supporting them to be successful.”

ACE Awards. For the past 11 years, businesses throughout Lane County have collaborated to recognize the champions who are working in schools to help kids succeed. The annual A Champion in Education (ACE) Awards recognize outstanding teachers, volunteers, administrators, and classified staff, and provides Champion with a $1,000 grant to use in their classroom or school.

These are just a few of the initiatives OCCU and other local organizations participate in to help local kids learn, grow and succeed. Will you join us this year?