Sometimes it seems like everything Bill Burwinkel touches turns to gold, and he's hoping that some of his Midas touch rubs off on low-income students in the Greater Cincinnati area.
The Price Hill resident and entrepreneur is a big believer in giving back to the community. With his Adopt-a-Class Foundation, he's not only challenging students to be successful but also is urging the business community to move away from its comfort zone to help those in need.
“We have value,” Burwinkel says, regarding the business community's potential involvement with many of the 24,000 school children living in poverty who attend either Cincinnati Public Schools or one of the Catholic schools operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Although the time volunteers actually spend with the students might be limited, the interaction also has an impact through the letters exchanged throughout the school year. Additionally, volunteers give their adopted students a Christmas Party and participate in another activity in the spring.
Even when the students and volunteers don't physically see each other, there still is constant communication and exposure to each other's lifestyles.
Adopt-a-Class Foundation is more than just a bunch of do-gooders going into a classroom to impress the boss; it's a tribute to one man's dream to expose all of Greater Cincinnati's low-income school children to something better.
The foundation targets those schools that specifically serve students who live at or below the poverty level. According to the foundation's website, 60 percent of these students live in a single-parent household; 17 to 20 percent are homeless or don't have a permanent address; 15 to 25 percent of the student population have some type of disability — mental or physical — and all are eligible for the free breakfast and lunch program at school.
Some of the students go to school just for the breakfast or lunch. Several volunteers who are exposed to this type of existence for the first time have come up to Burwinkel shocked and surprised by the problems these kids face just to survive day to day.
“I didn't know,” is the most common comment Burwinkel gets when he talks with adopters about their experience in the classroom.
“I applaud Bill Burwinkel’s leadership and dedication in creating and expanding this program that is so valuable to CPS,” says Cincinnati Public School Superintendent Mary Ronan. “His work not only benefits our students but also makes it easier for the community to team with us to prepare our students for life.”
“I always enjoy going to the annual Adopt-a-Class breakfast, where I can meet and talk with employees of the companies participating in this wonderful program,” Ronan adds. “I love hearing the volunteers tell such heartwarming stories about their involvement with our students.”
Overall, Burwinkel says the program has exceeded expectations. One surprising impact is the amount of time volunteers spend with the students. Although the adopters are required to just spend seven to 10 hours with the students during the school year, many are spending up to 14 hours or more with the students.
Teachers of adopted classrooms told Foundation staffers that they've seen great improvement in their students, especially with attendance and writing skills.
Burwinkel created the Adopt-a-Class Foundation nine years ago because his employees challenged him to do more at Oyler Community Learning Center. The National Marketshare Group employees had been tutoring the students at least one hour a week, but business and work schedules were interfering with the tutoring sessions.
“We were disappointed we couldn't do more, and we didn't want to let the kids down, so we put our heads together to come up with something that was flexible for us but would also have an effective impact on the kids,” Burwinkel says. “It worked. My team was challenged to do more and it has become a better program over the years. In fact, 95 percent of volunteers who began with the program are still with it.”
Today, Adopt-a-Class Foundation volunteers can be found at Oyler Community Learning Center, Riverview East Community Learning Center, Roberts Paideia Academy, Winton Hills Academy, Ethel M. Taylor Academy and William Howard Taft Elementary.
They also can be found at Academy of World Languages, Holy Family School, St. Frances de Sales School, John P. Parker School, Pleasant Hill Academy, Rockdale Academy, Carson School, St. Boniface, South Avondale Elementary and Mount Washington Elementary.
Further, the Foundation has adopters working with schools in Newport, Ky., and in Oregon.
The businesses that have adopted classrooms chose the Adopt-a-Class program because they wanted to keep their employees engaged in a volunteer effort that they hopefully wouldn't lose interest in over time.
Burwinkel has incredible enthusiasm for the program and the businesses who meet with him often get swept up in his passion for the kids who deserve to be exposed to more of what life has to offer.
“I'm a sales guy, and I enjoy the thrill of closing a sale,” Burwinkel says about why he enjoys meeting with businesses to sign them up for the Adopt-a-Class program. “It makes sense and it's an opportunity for everyone to give back to the community.”
If you would like more information about the ADOPT-A-CLASS FOUNDATION, visit