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Mother helps stock Guilford County schools

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By Chris Gigley

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Guildford County schools are well stocked for the 2005 school year, thanks in part to a program a concerned local mother created five years ago

Since then, the Fill the Bus Campaign has raised more than $500,000 in funding and school supplies for local public schools.

Fill the Bus pairs local businesses with public schools and helps them with fundraising ideas to solicit supplies for the schools.

Guilford County Schools and the volunteer centers, Community in Schools organizations and United Ways in Greensboro and High Point collaborate to recruit new businesses, make the pairings and foster the business/school relationship.

Organizers pair the neediest schools first and try to match schools and businesses that are relatively near one another.

The idea is to encourage the relationship to extend beyond Fill the Bus. In some cases, a company’s employees have served as tutors or mentors in their Fill the Bus school.

Big and small companies participate.

Deluxe Corporation, Technology Concepts & Design and Ciba Specialty Chemicals, for example, are just a few Guilford County companies involved.

Overall 53 of the 111 Guilford County public schools benefit from Fill the Bus.

“It’s just been growing exponentially,” says Robin Lindsey, director of the Volunteer Center of Greensboro. “Each year it gets larger and the existing relationships strengthen. The schools are just as thrilled the second and third year they receive the supplies as they were the first.”

Bobby Smith, president of United Way of Greater High Point, says the program is like an economic-development tool.

“Fill the Bus is a local supplement to teachers’ salaries,” he says, “and helps retain and attract teachers to our community.”

Smith cites research that prompted Kellie Whelan to start Fill the Bus in 2000.

Noting the volume of supplies her son needed for kindergarten that year, Whelan realized that if parents would not or could not buy the supplies, schoolteachers often did.

“I found a survey showing that the average teacher spends $500 of his or her own money on supplies a year,” recalls Whelan, corporate campus manager at VF Corporation. “First-time teachers spent even more.”

Having the resources to make something happen, she developed the idea to solicit donations and have them fill up a real school bus “because it’s very visual,” she says.

She also got the support of VF Corp.

“I thought if I could spearhead something and position VF as a leader, I could really make a difference,” she says.

The first Fill the Bus campaign was a public drive, and it brought in three semi-truckloads of supplies.

While the response was great, the donations didn’t always match up with a school’s needs.

Whelan revamped the program in 2001, putting into place the current business partnership format and having teachers send in “wish lists.”

Although this year’s Fill the Bus Campaign winds down at the end of September, companies can participate at any time.

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