Beyond the Build

Community Service

Building a School Library Strengthened a Community, a Partnership and our Team

Last week we received a plaque from The Heart of America Foundation for the improvements we provided an inner city Atlanta elementary school. It’s a beautiful memento covered with pictures of students enjoying their new space. As I looked at all the smiling faces, it reminded me why we made the commitment last June.

Jim Gustafson and Patrick Davis, two of our strategic partners at Target, called to ask if we would be interested in teaming on the rebuild. I agreed, mainly because of the people who asked. When I got off the phone I started second guessing myself. With the Recession and our revenues down, what was I thinking? Fortunately, my conscience kicked in and helped me realize that it doesn’t matter. A friend asked for our partnership—they could help with supplies and we could help with the balance need—and children would benefit for years to come. We would figure out how to make it happen for these kids. Clinton Smith, who led the initiative from our end, did just that.

The library at Beecher Hills Elementary received a complete transformation including 2000 new books, updated technology and colorful interiors conducive to learning. “We know that pre-K through fifth grade is the period that sets the tone for reading,” said first-year Principal Crystal Jones. “Getting this done will go a long way toward making that happen.” Maybe the library can even provide a “tipping point” for these kids just like Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book.

“You have not just changed the library, you have changed the lives of our children forever,” said Dr. Sharon Davis Williams, executive director of Atlanta Public Schools for southwest Atlanta schools.

I knew the children were thrilled, but looking at the pictures last week it made it all worthwhile. I called Jim and Patrick and asked them to sign us up for another school next summer. I couldn’t pass up the chance to help kids learn.

Check out more of the library renovation celebration on my flickr photostream.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.