GE / Hazel Park Partnership

GE Capital wanted to get involved in a company-wide volunteer project where employees could give back to the St. Paul community.

The company chose to participate in “JA-in-a-Day” programs at Hazel Park Academy in St. Paul. The first year, 20 GE employees taught JA curriculum to local students. The following year, GE doubled the number of volunteers so that they could better support the school.

Following their volunteer orientation, Hazel Park’s principal spoke to GE volunteers about the challenges the school faced. Many of their students come from underprivileged families. They often arrive at school hungry and have difficult home situations. Many of them exhibit challenging behaviors.

Instead of discouraging the volunteers, hearing about the students’ challenges motivated and inspired GE employees to do even more. When JA and Hazel Park asked GE to further increase their involvement by adding another grade level, the company accepted the challenge.

GE Capital’s St. Paul office has 180 employees. The company would need to recruit 50 volunteers in order to fulfill their commitment to the school – nearly one-third of the entire workforce.

GE employee Mary Fox has volunteered with JA at Hazel Park for many years. She recognizes the important role she and her colleagues fulfill through this partnership, and accepted it as a personal challenge to recruit the needed number of volunteers.

A month before their scheduled day at Hazel Park, GE held a “lunch and learn” to recruit new volunteers. Mary pointed out to her colleagues that they would benefit both personally and professionally – they’re not just giving back to the community, but they’re also developing important public speaking and leadership skills that will help them in their careers.

Mary was successful in recruiting the needed number of volunteers. “I’m a hard person to say no to,” Mary says of her recruiting efforts.

GE has expanded their partnership with Hazel Park beyond “JA-in-a-Day”. The company provides a grant so that students can participate in JA BizTown, a curriculum offered to middle school students where they leave their classroom for a simulated real-world experience in a kid-sized city at JA headquarters. Employees also organized a food drive and raised money to buy backpacks and school uniforms for the students. Several GE employees volunteer once or twice a week reading to students.

Hazel Park teacher Michelle Strecker can’t say enough positive things about the partnership with GE. The employees bring tremendous value to the classroom. They’re enthusiastic, well-prepared and excited to teach. To show their appreciation, teachers organized a volunteer breakfast that they paid for out of their own pocket. “They do such a great job. The least we could do is feed them,” says Michelle.

At the end of the day, GE volunteers give each student a certificate, a pencil and a handshake celebrating a productive day of learning. The most valuable outcome, according to Michelle, is that the students “met a new friend, someone who cares about them.”

GE employees get as much out of volunteering as they give. According to Mary, she and her coworkers see first hand the rewards that come from GE’s partnership with the students and teachers at Hazel Park. “We are planting the seeds of optimism in students. We encourage them to be what they want to be. If they do their homework and stay in school, their dreams can come true. We show them that someone other than their teacher believes in them.”