Sherri Shafer works as a training facilitator for The PNC Financial Services Group in downtown Fort Wayne. She loves the fact that PNC supports and allows her to devote time to her passion: early childhood learning.
“My background is in early childhood development and I began my career path with Head Start as a preschool teacher,” Shafer explains. “My career eventually evolved into the financial industry, but my love for early childhood was always present. On my first day with PNC in 2011, I was introduced to the Grow Up Great program. I started volunteering for the program immediately.”
Shafer’s story is not at all unusual among PNC employees in northern Indiana.
“It’s the generosity and enthusiasm of PNC’s employee volunteers that is credited for Grow Up Great’s success,” says Kari Huston, who oversees the program and serves as director of Client and Community Relations for PNC. “More than 50 percent of our staff has volunteered for the Grow Up Great program at one time or another. We even pay employees their regular rate of pay, up to 40 hours a year, to participate in the program. How many companies can say they do something like that?”
The PNC Grow Up Great program is a $350 million multi-year commitment by PNC to help prepare children, particularly underserved children, from birth to age 5, for success in school and life.
“Since the program’s regional inception four years ago, PNC employees have volunteered well over 5,000 hours in northern Indiana preschools and Head Starts,” says Huston. “We average more than 1,300 hours a year. That’s more than 100 hours a month that we’re investing in our communities.”
Grow Up Great is offered at a number of preschools and early learning centers in northern Indiana. The list in Allen County includes: Martin Luther King Montessori School, Lutheran Children’s Village, Early Childhood Alliance (Downtown and Beacon Street locations) and CANI Head Starts (Salvation Army and East Wayne Street locations).
PNC awards early learning grants to these schools and others across northern Indiana and funds numerous nonprofits that provide programming for preschool aged children such as Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana, Science Central and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
“We feel truly blessed to have the support of PNC through the Grow Up Great program and are fortunate to be in a partnership with an organization that truly supports early childhood education and the development of all children within our community,” says Kathy Lehman, director of Lutheran Children’s Village.
Volunteer activities include things like teaching lessons developed by Sesame Street Workshops, reading to children, working one-on-one with preschoolers who are behind in their verbal skills, cleaning classrooms and storage closets, doing yard work such as pulling weeds, mulching and planting flowers, indoor painting, assisting with school fundraisers and graduation ceremonies. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve never turned down a request to volunteer for our partner schools,” says Huston, who organizes Grow Up Great teams and volunteers for multiple schools herself. “Grow Up Great is one of many ways I am personally responsible for supporting our clients and our communities.”
Huston adds that research shows the positive economic and social impact of programs like Grow Up Great.
“A focus on the years from birth to age 5 reaps dividends such as better achievement in school, more graduates of high school and college, higher salaries, less crime and drug abuse, fewer people on welfare and so on.”
That’s one of many reasons why Sherri Shafer and so many of her colleagues go the extra mile to make Grow Up Great an amazing opportunity for children in this community.
“The program I’m working with now makes me smile each week. It’s called Story Friends and I go to the childcare center once a week to work with children on vocabulary words and reading. I find this very rewarding because I can see the progress they are making week by week. I am very proud to be a part of PNC because they make it a priority to partner in early childhood.”
Phone: (260) 461-7179