Last winter while vacationing in Florida, S&S Worldwide CEO Stephen Schwartz struck up a conversation with teacher Ilyse Opas. Opas teaches at Cox Academy, a charter school in East Oakland, Calif.
After discussing how budget constraints impinge on buying updated learning material, Schwartz presented Opas with a $750 gift certificate to S&S. In return, he had one simple request – to receive letters from the grateful children.
The gratitude is understandable the more you learn about the school. Located in a low-income neighborhood and suffering from lagging test scores, staff and teachers like Opas are working tirelessly to narrow the achievement gap, which could as easily be called a “supplies gap.” Schools that can’t afford new learning materials simply struggle to keep pace with schools that can, which is why Opas promptly used the certificate to purchase new books.
She also made good on her promise to repay Schwartz with dozens of hand-written thank you notes from her students.
In her letter, Adelaide, who likes “being friendly and eating good food like bananas,” wrote, “I appreciate you. I hope you can visit,” and drew a heart-shaped character with the speech bubble, “You are a great man.” Victor wanted to know if he liked the Oakland Raiders and Dayonara wondered what S&S stands for (Answer: Schwartz and Sons).
“We always get a ‘feel good’ sense when we donate to help kids, but their warm and refreshing thank you letters really enriches our experience,” Schwartz said.
Letters have that kind of transcending power, even when, like Schwartz and the children at Cox Academy, the senders and recipient are separated by more than 2,600 miles. As author Phyllis Theroux observed, “To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”