One for you, one for me: Yoobi helps students with free school supplies
Kolleen Bourdage's third-grade students cluster around the classroom visitor bearing a box stuffed with new pencils, markers, rulers, glue sticks, and other brightly colored items.
Justin Wolff of Yoobi, a school supply brand, tells the children at Midway Elementary School in a Seattle suburb that Bourdage is "the best teacher in the world" and "our hero."
He's bringing the box to her class, Wolff says, because Yoobi gives away a school supply item for every one purchased "to show we not only take care of ourselves, we take care of others as well. We're all in this together. We're all a community."
That community includes World Vision's U.S. Programs, which is partnering with Yoobi to help low-income children learn and succeed by providing free school supplies.
Yoobi's name is derived from the expression, "You be the difference." The business, based near Los Angeles, is working with World Vision's Teacher Resource Centers in or near Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, and Philippi, West Virginia.
Wolff, Yoobi's buoyant "chief giving officer," says the company learned about World Vision through the Kids in Need Foundation. Yoobi's goal this school year is to donate enough supplies to serve 30,000 classrooms across the nation. World Vision is aiming for 5,000 of those to be at its partner schools.
A typical beneficiary is Midway Elementary, where Principal Rebekah Kim says 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
"I like all my new school supplies," says Madeleine, 6, who loves to draw horses, in a first-grade classroom visited by Wolff. "I like it the best that the company did so much work, just for us."
A sign on the classroom door of teacher Franli Newman says "First Grade is a HOOT!" Beneath pictures of owls dangling from the ceiling, a boy uses his new marker to draw a basketball.
In Bourdage's classroom, a girl's eyes light up at the sight of her new markers: "I lost mine — and I could get more!"
During every classroom visit, Wolff reads a letter from Yoobi, whose products are sold exclusively at Target stores and online, and whose slogan is "One for you. One for me." The letter praises teachers and expresses "an extra special thank you" for all the times they've had to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets.
"For all the glue sticks you bought to cement your kids' imaginations, for all the crayons you provided so kids can color their dreams, and for the countless hours you dedicate after the closing bell rings, we thank you," Wolff says.
Support for teachers
The message and supplies brightens the day for Autumn Eyre, who has taught special education for seven years.
"Thank you so much," she tells Wolff. "Actually, the letter is all I needed."
In a note she later sent to World Vision, Eyre says that hearing Yoobi's letter read in front of her Midway administrators and classroom team "gave me more strength than any single experience of my career. As special ed teachers, we are often forgotten... Oh, and of course thanks for the amazing supplies! However, all the $ in the world couldn't have made me feel as appreciated and visible as having that letter read to me in public."
Watching her students marvel at their fresh supplies, Eyre says, "We do buy things all with our own money, so this is amazing."
A survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) found that teachers in the U.S. spent an average of $485 of their own money on supplies for their classrooms in 2012-2013.
"Having enough school supplies allows teachers to have the tools and resources they need for their students," says Kim, whose teachers also receive supplies from World Vision's Teacher Resource Center near Seattle.
The Yoobi donation "takes away any worry about not having enough supplies for their students," she says. "We have been fortunate with the partnerships and support from the organizations that have a mission to serve local communities."
'A shared enthusiasm'
That sentiment is repeated in other schools in low-income neighborhoods visited by Yoobi and World Vision, including Clemente Charter School in Maywood, California, southeast of Los Angeles.
"These kids are great and their families are engaged, but sometimes they still need basic school supplies," says Clemente Principal Norma Moreno.
In Lakewood, Washington, an area near military bases, families are "often super stressed with one parent deployed, and trying to make ends meet," says Dayna Brown, a family support specialist with the Clover Park School District. "[By receiving supplies from Yoobi], we will have more options for more projects and not have to go out and buy them all."
The Yoobi donation helps even in unexpected ways. At World Vision's Teacher Resource Center near Dallas, volunteers from the Autism Treatment Center of Texas cheerfully sort Yoobi shipments and fill colorful pencil cases with supplies, an activity that helps them interact with the community and develop skills.
"World Vision's employees and volunteers demonstrate a shared enthusiasm and passion for Yoobi's mission, and meeting our donation goal wouldn't be possible without their help and support," Wolff says.
"It has been truly inspiring to work alongside World Vision. The Yoobi team and I are grateful for all their hard work and are excited about what we can achieve together."