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Sheraton Tucson Hotel Staff Adopt Fort Lowell Elementary School, Tucson, AZ

Volunteering Time and Money Creating Community Partnerships


By Rhonda Bodfield, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 12, 2009--Fort Lowell Elementary School Principal Andrew Kent likes the feeling of being adopted.

A few months ago, some staffers from the Sheraton Tucson Hotel and Suites came to his office to say they wanted to set up a partnership with the school. They wanted to donate the two things schools never have enough of: money and time.

"It's almost like a fairy-tale story because it's such a dream come true," Kent said.

In recent years, he's made overtures to businesses near the Midtown school at 5151 E. Pima St., trying to drum up that kind of support, but this is the first time an offer like that just walked in the door. And it couldn't come at a better time, as schools in the Tucson Unified School District anxiously await word on how deep the budget cuts will be for next school year.

There are several layers to the partnership, which will last through September and which Kent said is relatively rare.

Hotel employees have promised to volunteer at school events. About 10 members of the management team showed up for their first one Friday, armed with 250 hot dogs and buns, chips and refreshments for a multicultural-night celebration.

"They'll provide the brawn and the smiles," Kent said. "They made it clear they don't just want to send us cash, but that they want to be involved."

The hotel, 5151 E. Grant Road, also aims to raise $5,000 for the school.

The donations could come in several ways.

Students drew pictures of what they hope to be when they grow up, and the hotel is placing them in the lobby and in guest rooms, which may prompt the guests to donate.

Staffers will give as well. Managers late for a meeting will have to kick in $1 each time. Staff members who want to dress down in jeans on Friday will have to donate $5 for the privilege.

General manager Nanci Sherman said Fort Lowell was selected for the Best in Class program due to its proximity -- less than a mile away -- and its high needs, as many of its students live in poverty.

She welcomes the opportunity to establish deeper partnerships with the community, she said. "We are dedicated to giving back to the communities where we live and work," she said. "This partnership can help create a world of possibility for kids who otherwise wouldn't have it."

Kent said he already has a project in mind for the additional funding. Because the playground equipment at the school is completely exposed to the sun, he'd like to have sun shades so the students can play on the slides and other equipment that now gets too hot, too fast.

Kent said he's had other good news this year as well. The school's fine-arts program is now fully implemented to a gold standard. A nearby nursing home has partnered with the school to help students work in the habitat garden. And the school has started working on environmental initiatives.

"It really has been very invigorating to have people reach out and say we want to help your school in very tangible ways," he said. "What I believe is that the people at the hotel will come to really like us as neighbors and see value in knowing us. It feels very American, very grass-roots and very hometown."

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or at rbodfield@azstarnet.com.

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To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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