Georgia United Credit Union is part of a very big community, and they’re giving back in a big way. Through its School Crashers® program, Georgia United Foundation provides makeovers to elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the state. That’s some big love they’re showing for the statewide community.
“Giving back is not only the right way — but the only way,” said Debbie Smith, president/CEO of the Duluth-based credit union.
Over the past six years, Georgia United has provided 43 facility makeovers valued at $1,287,108 (in grant and in-kind donations) to deserving schools through the School Crashers program — impacting 28,530 students! This initiative arose due to limited school budget funding prohibiting many schools from being able to update or repair school grounds and facilities as needed.
Interested schools apply for grants each spring at gucufoundation.org/schoolcrashers, then School Crashers unites communities, media partners, donors and volunteers to complete the selected improvement projects for deserving schools in the summer.
Each year one school is selected as the top recipient to receive a full campus makeover. Additional schools may also be selected to receive mini-makeovers, depending on the school’s needs and available funds. Since its inception, the School Crashers program has been nationally recognized with five industry rewards for positively impacting communities.
Georgia accredited public or private elementary, middle and high schools are encouraged to apply for a School Crashers makeover during the submission period which runs through the entire month of March. Anyone can nominate a school by submitting a 250-word statement explaining why their school should receive a makeover, along with supporting photos of the areas in need.
Camp Creek Elementary in Lilburn was a mini-makeover recipient last year. Principal Valerie Robinett wanted a better — and safer — place for her pre-K and special needs students to play. Preschool teacher Lisa Dierdorff and parent Chris Giddens wrote a compelling message illustrating why their school deserved a playground designed for these students. The Georgia United Foundation donated a new $12,000 playground that meets current safety standards and has some features to accommodate special needs as well.
“They had one really sad play area for their pre-K children and special-needs kids, and they had no playground equipment,” said Kim Wall, director of business and community development for Georgia United. “It was just a thin patch of dirt. The PTA had been trying to raise money to get playground equipment for that area and they told a very compelling story.” Over the years, most of the makeover improvements have included cosmetic updates such as interior painting and murals, removal of tree stumps and debris, and installation of outdoor garden areas and seating.
In years past, sponsors and donors such as Mohawk, The Home Depot Foundation, Coca-Cola and the Chick-fil-A Foundation have provided carpeting, paint, wood, mulch, as well as food and beverages for hungry volunteers.
The School Crashers program began in 2014 to address the needs in the communities that weren’t covered by capital improvements or special sales taxes. “We started thinking how we could help with our volunteers,” said Wall, “and the program was born. Six years in now, and we’ve got a lot of experience under our belt. It’s a trademark program.”
In addition to School Crashers, the Foundation funds programs including Junior Achievement, Can Hunger, Wish Tree and annual scholarship program for high school seniors, all designed to improve the communities they serve.
Additional Foundation Programs
The 26th annual Foundation Scholarship program awards $27,500 to high school seniors with recipients announced in
April each year.
Georgia United provided 152 JA Discovery Center volunteers in 2019 and sponsored storefronts in the Gwinnett, Forsyth and downtown Atlanta JA Discovery Centers, helping middle school students learn about running a business or managing a family budget.
40,543 cans of food (20 tons) were donated to local food banks in community neighborhoods in 2019, bringing the program total to 335,149 or 167 tons.
Provided 2,463 holiday gifts for foster children in the communities Georgia United serves.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
Partnering with University of Georgia and Dalton State to provide free income tax filing assistance to a total of 3,813 individuals — processing $3,245,888 in returns.
Children’s Miracle Network programs
Georgia United team members fundraise thousands of dollars for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta throughout the year, as well as volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — serving meals or donating toys for patients.