Hunter Noe wears a lanyard around his neck most days. When he doesn’t, he’s late for third grade.
The lanyard holds the key to a padlock. The padlock secures his new bicycle to a rack. And the rack rests outside a library near Firestone Park Elementary, where Hunter parks his bike each school day.
He started riding to school to avoid consistent tardiness.
“I’ve never seen a third-grader ... ride their bike in the cold or the rain to get here on time,” his teacher, Jill Finnegan, said Thursday. “He didn’t brag about it. He was just doing it.”
The tardiness issue resurfaced this spring — after his bike was stolen from that rack.
Providing a bicycle to a third-grader who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to school on time doesn’t fall under the purview of an educator. It’s just one of those things that inhibits learning.
So Finnegan reached out for help.
Brian Tondra, a volunteer who reads to Hunter on a weekly basis, answered the plea, finding a bike for the student, whose attendance has since rebounded.
Tondra, a civil engineer, is one of about 35 Akron schools volunteers who work at GPD Group. The design firm, located near Firestone Park Elementary, has adopted the school.
And that means more than just writing checks, although the company did donate $25,000 last year for computers, program costs, projectors, Christmas presents for each student and $100 gift cards for teachers, inflatable playgrounds for the school’s annual year-end celebration on Thursday and numerous other odds and ends.
“It means a lot to us. The money part is easy, from a business standpoint,” said CEO Darrin Kotecki, who gave the bicycle his son had outgrown to Tondra to pass on to Hunter.
“You can tell they appreciate it,” Tondra said of the kids. “I’ve seen the smiles on their faces.”
Along with much-needed and unexpected gifts, like a bicycle for a kid who needs to get to school, GPD Group employees contribute 30 to 40 hours of one-on-one literacy tutoring each week.
“They’ve continued to do more and more and more,” Principal Joan Thompson said. “They’ve been very generous to us.”
“It’s a huge blessing to have any volunteer come in and help,” said Cathy Zawistowski, a reading specialist at Firestone Elementary, who uses volunteers from GPD Group to bolster literacy in early childhood education. “I just can’t tell you how much they’ve done for the students and the teachers. And they’re always there.”
The partnership between Firestone Elementary and GPD Group began about eight years ago and grows annually.
“They started off just reading to the kids,” Finnegan said. “When we didn’t have funding for certain things, they just donated. They’re so good to us. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”
The latest installment in the ongoing partnership is the formation of an advisory group, led by civic and religious leaders, educators at Firestone Elementary and stakeholders from GPD Group.
The advisory group assesses student and teacher needs and allocates donations or coordinates other philanthropic gestures. Their first collaboration is expected to come to fruition in the fall, when the school hosts a Positive Parenting Program.
GPD Group has agreed to provide transportation and T-shirts for parents who attend the event, which will be hosted by Akron police officers, social workers and others who can advise parents on safety, childcare and other issues.
The idea is to foster a stronger relationship and alleviate the issues that are beyond a teacher’s control.
“My wife’s a teacher, so I get it,” Kotecki said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.