Last year, a Lee County middle-school band received a new set of instruments to replace its broken, outdated ones, thanks to a grant from Suncoast Credit Union Foundation.
To the south, in Collier County, a resource room for struggling readers was restocked with brand-new books, also funded by Suncoast.
And right here in Hillsborough County, Suncoast for the sixth straight year sponsored the Hillsborough Education Foundation's Teaching Tools Store, which provides free school supplies to teachers at low-income schools.
These are just three of the hundreds of initiatives supported by Suncoast Credit Union Foundation over the last two decades, with the goal of improving the lives of children in the 21 Florida counties it serves.
"We are the largest financial institution based in Florida and headquartered in Tampa," Suncoast Foundation Executive Director Cindy Helton said. "As a credit union, we are always looking for ways to improve our communities because that's where we live and work too. When you add everything up, we fund over 250 nonprofits."
Suncoast Credit Union, founded in 1934 as the Hillsborough County Teachers Credit Union, was created to serve teachers. Today, the credit union serves members from all over Florida, including teachers. Suncoast's Foundation was created in 1990 to help children in need, by offering college scholarships. Since then, the Foundation has broadened its scope, raising and donating more than $19 million to various organizations that help provide a better future for children through education and health initiatives.
And the best news is that it doesn't cost a penny. Each time one of the credit union's 700,000-plus members uses a debit or credit card, two cents is returned to the Suncoast Foundation, where it is automatically donated, reserved for the Foundation to use on not-for-profit entities in the county where the member lives.
"We learn so much about the real needs of a community through our Foundation, and that helps us understand how we can better invest in solutions," said Suncoast Presidentand CEO Kevin Johnson. "And that's really what we do every day at the credit union - we work hard to improve the lives of our members. The Foundation yields dividends in ways that work toward a better future for all of us. When children benefit, we all do."
In 2016, the Foundation donated $2.8 million to organizations across the state. Of that, $750,000 was granted to organizations in Hillsborough County, including the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
Suncoast is one of HEF's premiere partners, generously donating $265,000 to the organization during the 2016-17 fiscal year alone, supporting teachers, scholarships, classroom grants and HEF's mission.
"HEF works in tandem with Hillsborough County Public Schools
and helps enhance what the schools are already trying to do
for kids and teachers," Helton said. "Supporting HEF is a way we can support the students and teachers of Hillsborough County."
Suncoast matched donations at the 2016 Teaching Tools Luncheon, the Store's primary fundraiser.
"Suncoast doesn't just talk - they DO," HEF President Kim Jowell said. "Very few organizations demonstrate their level of commitment to children's health and education. We are fortunate and grateful that they invest the way they do and that they are based here in Hillsborough County."
Here are several examples of the many local programs supported by Suncoast in 2016:
- Emergency Care Help Organization: ECHO provides immediate relief in the forms of food, clothing and household items toeastern Hillsborough County residents who have experienced a recent emergency. Suncoast funded a grant that gave 250 children in need a pair of shoes.
- Reading with the Rays: Presented by Suncoast, this program encourages children to practice their reading skills during the summer. Participants are rewarded for completing 24 hours of reading, with a grand prize of complimentary tickets to a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.
- Eckerd Youth Alternatives - Raising Hope: Suncoast sponsors a Room of Hope, a place where children who have been abused or neglected can go to pick up fresh clothing, pajamas, shoes, hygiene items, diapers, school supplies and a new duffel bag as they enter the foster-care system.
- Hillsborough Education Foundation Teaching Tools Store: Sponsored by Suncoast, the Teaching Tools Store is a resource for Title I teachers to "shop" for up to $200 in free school supplies each month to keep their classrooms stocked throughout the school year.
Not only does Suncoast make financial contributions to help children in need, but it also places a heavy emphasis among its 1,200 employees on the importance of volunteering. Every Suncoast employee is given eight hours off work to volunteer at an organization of their choice, or the credit union will help find a match.
In 2016, 924 employees spent 17,482 hours of their time volunteering, including at the Hillsborough Education Foundation. That's equal to an investment of $411,000, Helton added.