Featured Learning Day Community Service Project

Keith Houck – A Gift for Teaching

Learning Day 2012 is scheduled for Friday, February 10, and the focus, as it was last year, will be on serving our community. This year, however, rather than spending the entire day working on one large service learning project, several Learning Day team leaders have been recruited to coordinate volunteer groups to work on smaller projects throughout the Central Florida community. In an effort to prepare you for this year’s Learning Day, we will profile several team leaders and service activities in the coming weeks.

This week we are profiling Keith Houck, vice president for operations and finance, who is one of the Learning Day team leaders. Keith will be taking a group to volunteer at A Gift for Teaching – an organization that supports public education by collecting and redistributing unwanted or surplus supplies to the community’s highest-need schools.

“A Gift for Teaching’s concept is beautifully simple,” Keith explains. “Local businesses take unwanted supplies or surplus merchandise that would otherwise get thrown away and donate it for distribution through the free stores for teachers.” More than 9,742 teachers from Central Florida’s 324 public schools can then “shop” for free to make sure the more than 171,566 students in our community have what they need to learn.

Keith is looking for 40 volunteers to spend the morning of Learning Day assisting in the main facility, which includes the Orlando store and the warehouse. Volunteers will be split into sub-groups where they will work in the warehouse, restock shelves in the store, or put together boxes of items that will be sent to the schools.

In the early 1990’s Keith had chaired the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies to help Orange County school teachers through a program called Save Our Schools. Unfortunately, this initiative was “not able to gain enough community interest to develop a sustainable program,” Keith said.

That’s when, Keith explained, “Sometimes you find yourself in just the right spot at the right time.” In 1997 Keith met Gary Landwirth at a community service event, who was then working at the Audubon Society. Gary and Keith immediately connected through their shared desire to provide free supplies to teachers and students in local schools.

“Shortly thereafter, Gary quit his job and with a $100,000 grant to serve as seed money,” Keith said, “we started A Gift For Teaching.” That’s when Keith pulled together friends from the business community who were able to open a small store in a strip mall near Leu Gardens in the fall of 1998. During the next few years, they kept afloat by continually asking businesses and individuals for supplies and financial support for the program.

“Through the support of an expanding number of organizations, we gained momentum and now A Gift for Teaching provides approximately $7 million annually in learning supplies and materials to teachers and students in the tri-county area,” Keith said. Since 1998, A Gift for Teaching has provided over $61 million of support to those in need.

While A Gift for Teaching has been successful since its inception, there is still so much more that needs to be accomplished to provide every student with the necessary supplies and tools for learning. Volunteers perform much of the work, and more are always needed.

To read more about these projects and others, visit the Learning Day 2012 website and click on “Service Learning Projects.” You can register for projects beginning Tuesday, January 17 through a survey that will be sent to you via email.

Read about other featured Learning Day community service projects in The Grove:

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