When you talk to Diane Pugh or Dawn Hunter of UTC Fire & Security Center, formerly GE Security, you can sense the passion and caring they have for others, especially children.
The company is involved in the Business Education Partnership Program, one of 325 small and large businesses in Manatee County that give their time and expertise to improve the education of children in the public schools. The business partners were recognized last week with a special breakfast event at Freedom Village — the 20th year for the program.
As part of the partnership, the two women were involved in baking and selling 56 caramel apple pies to raise $5,000, which purchased backpacks for each of the 500 students at Ballard Elementary.
“You should have seen their faces,” Pugh said of the time the children were able to pick their favorite colored backpack. “One little girl was hugging her backpack.”
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Hunter, who brought her teenage son to the giveaway at the school, couldn’t believe the joy a simple backpack elicited.
“Their eyes looked like saucers,” she said. “You would have thought you were giving them the moon.”
The event taught the women one important thing — there is no act too small to impact a child.
Businesses from national chains like Home Depot to small ones like Bill Lee’s Professional Automotive Service Inc. in Palmetto were recognized at the breakfast.
Lee, who has worked with the students in the automotive technology program at Manatee Technical Institute for the past 10 years, choked up as he accepted the award for “Good Things Come in Small Packages.”
Lee’s involvement includes guiding students to make the best choices, whether it’s career-oriented or life choices. He recently paid the $5,800 tuition each to MTI for two students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend.
“He’s living his dream and he wants others to have the opportunity to live their dreams too,” said Mary Cantrell, MTI director, in nominating Lee for the award.
With $46 million in recent school district budget cuts, Superintendent Tim McGonegal says the partnerships are more important than ever.
Rowlett Elementary teacher Monica Corbett agrees. Her school has an ongoing partnership with Bank of America that trains students how to run a kid’s bank. The project teaches students the ins and outs of banking principles as well as other life skills like compiling a resume and learning how to interview for a job.
It is truly incredible that with the economy in the state it’s in and seemingly taking a long time to recover, so many small businesses give of their time and money to help expand students’ minds.
Never underestimate the power of small businesses — they make the world go ’round.