Created in partnership with our friends at PNC Bank.
What does it mean to grow up great?
To the employees of PNC, it means preparing children for success in both school and life. Since 2004, their Grow Up Great® program has focused on serving children from birth to age 5 by supporting programs, resources, and experiences that plant the seeds for a lifetime of learning and opportunities.
Understanding the Need for Early Childhood Education
For close to two decades, PNC employees have committed time and money to ensuring children have access to high-quality early childhood education and programming. Why? Because according to Early Learning Indiana, from birth to age eight is “widely considered the most vulnerable and crucial stage of a person’s life.” Their Indiana: Early Childhood Education report goes on to say that, “it is vital for policymakers, communities, and citizens to prioritize ensuring children have the nurturing experiences required to optimize early brain development.”
Those serving schoolchildren know the impact a lack of access to early childhood learning can have long term on students. “As a former IPS Kindergarten and first grade Instructional Assistant and tutor, I’ve seen what can happen when students aren’t exposed to early learning,” said Hanna Yaeger-Busch, Director of Community Engagement at Teachers’ Treasures.
“When these students would come to school, they sadly were already behind before class even started. Unfortunately, this is common because of accessibility to quality and affordable materials, resources, and programming. Organizations who step in to help fill these gaps are providing a foundation for young learners that sets the tone for the rest of their academic lives.”
PNC Grow Up Great: Inspiring a Love of Learning
PNC understands the need for early childhood education and has invested more than $500 million to a multiyear bilingual early childhood education initiative. As of January 2023, employees have dedicated more than 1 million volunteer hours and donated over 1.5 million supplies, such as school items and clothing.
Grow Up Great is more than just a corporate initiative—it is a holistic commitment to the communities PNC serves. All employees are encouraged to play a part, with PNC providing employees up to 40 hours in paid volunteer time per year.
Employees like Sherry Manning, a PNC Banker, are taking advantage of the volunteer hours provided by PNC each year. “I have been heavily involved since day one,” said Sherry. Some of her favorite volunteer experiences include teaching children about budgeting, helping them learn to read, and building tricycles and wagons to donate to local community centers.
Recently, she volunteered at Hawthorne Community Center, where she taught children about financial literacy, budgeting and saving. She also helped them with a planting activity, where each child could paint a pot and plant a seed. One boy Sherry assisted was so proud of his plant, he gifted it to his mother.
“Not only does she know he’s being well taken care of, but he is learning and growing,” stated Sherry. “I bet her leaving him the next day was an easier transition because she knew how happy he was. So I think that’s why we do what we do.”
Celebrating Nearly 20 Years of Impact
Over the years, PNC Grow Up Great has collaborated with education experts, at the local and national levels, to develop resources and programs that encourage children
to discover, learn and grow. These include:
Sesame Workshops: Free, bilingual resources to help parents, caregivers and educators enhance learning opportunities for young children.
A partnership with the National Institute for Early Education Research: PNC’s financial support helps improve the learning and development of young children by producing academic research that informs policy and practice.
Collaborations with WFYI: PNC has partnered with WFYI since 2004 to offer programming focused on early childhood education.
Support of public school teachers: The PNC Foundation has awarded $15 million since 2017 to help public school teachers provide high-quality resources and learning experiences for their students.
April is GREAT Month
The month of April is incredibly special to PNC employees because April is GREAT Month! Every April, PNC employees double down on their service efforts by facilitating book drives, school visits, special programs and volunteer events.
“Honestly, we’re focused every month of the year, but April is one that we just get all hands on deck,” said Sherry. “We have everyone from our market president, marketing manager, branch managers, and regional managers: everybody’s participating.”
Here’s a glance at just some of the activities that will happen during GREAT Month:
- Local PNC teams will visit at least three early childhood centers each week, engaging with over 200 preschoolers.
- PNC branches will distribute a limited amount of new Sesame Street™ Getting Ready for School and Life – Together!™ activity books to customers.
- Employees will be collecting classroom supplies and other resources for early ed centers, families and caregivers in the region.
To kick off the nationwide GREAT rally, the PNC Foundation flash-funded every pre-K and Head Start teacher request in PNC’s markets. In a flash, over 3,000 projects received nearly $2 million dollars, of which some helped to fund 80 teacher wish lists across Indiana.
To top it off, PNC will donate over 100 PNC Grow Up Great “Can Do Cans” to early learning centers. Employee volunteers work individually and/or in groups to assemble these educational “Can Do Cans” for partners. These cans are themed with activities to help our youngest learners understand what they “can do”—from “I can say the alphabet” to “I can count to 20.”
This April, Sherry is most looking forward to heading back to the Hawthorne Community Center to read to children. “Our goal is to give them a passion for learning, and that’s really going to affect them for a lifetime,” she shared.
Making an Impact Through Grants
PNC’s dedication to the community also includes a robust granting program. Since Grow Up Great’s inception, more than eight million children have been supported through PNC’s grants and educational programs.
“Since 2014, we have funded over $2 million dollars worth of grants to nonprofits here in Central and Southern Indiana,” explained Sherry. Some of these grants are funded through their Grants for Great Hours program, where employees get the opportunity to grant $3,000 for every 100 hours of community service they perform. PNC has granted a total of $9 million through this program alone.
The first Grants for Great Hours donation of 2023 was recently awarded to Teachers’ Treasures. “Partners like PNC Bank and the Grow Up Great Program support our community of over 8,100 teachers and school staff members and their 100,000 students in Marion County,” said Hanna Yaeger-Busch, Director of Community Engagement at Teachers’ Treasures. “Not only did they provide a very generous financial contribution, they’ve been dedicated volunteers in our store and advocates for us in the community, joining us for events and helping us tell our story.”
Sherry believes these grants are “really making a difference and leveling the playing field for everyone.” For instance, the $3,000 grant recently awarded to Teachers’ Treasures will be used to purchase books for young readers in a variety of languages. “We’ve identified a growing need for diverse literary tools, which directly correlates with Indianapolis’s growth as an international community,” stated Hanna. “Our schools are serving students and families from all over the world, and we want to be able to provide the materials that they need to help not only with literacy and academic skills, but also social and emotional needs.”
The books purchased through the PNC Grants for Great Hours will have a lasting, long-term impact on the students who read them. “Studies have shown that when students are exposed to their native languages alongside English, they develop better speaking and reading skills, as well as a more confident sense of well-being,” explained Hanna.
Providing More Than One Million Volunteer Hours
Since its inception, PNC’s Grow Up Great program has engaged employees in more than one million hours of volunteer time at local nonprofits, early childhood learning facilities and educational events. “We have a progressive policy where we encourage our employees to volunteer around 40 hours per year,” explained Sherry.
Her advice to employees (at any organization) who have yet to use their volunteer time off is this: Just take one hour. Once you take the first step and volunteer that first hour, you’ll see the impact it makes in the lives of others.
As for her volunteer work alongside PNC as part of their Grow Up Great Program, she has this to say, “I think that it’s all about inspiring a love for learning, and it’s creating a brighter future for all of them.”
Lindsay McGuire is a freelance writer, marketer, and podcast host who is passionate about volunteerism and community. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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