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story.lead_photo.caption Randy Edwards wears a holiday cap to entertain the public as he and other volunteers from Scholastic Inc. hand out produce during a mobile food pantry last week at the Jefferson City Boys & Girls Club. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Large Jefferson City employers make their presence felt throughout the community.

They provide jobs for thousands of workers, but just as important to many is the social work they do within the region.

Maybe no local employer is more socially responsible than Scholastic Inc.

Scholastic's business is distributing book fair materials and educational products.

Its impact is leadership in community-wide social responsibility.

Company-wide, Scholastic provides books to children in under-served communities, rewards creative teenagers for their writing, supports youth art, and commits to initiatives that help children develop reading and literacy skills.

Locally — where the company employs more than 1,600 people (and is currently hiring at 6336 Algoa Road) — it's Scholastic's dedication to the community that continuously astounds leaders.

The company's distribution center has been in Jefferson City for the past 50 years, and the city is thankful for the great example it sets for other businesses with its generosity, Mayor Carrie Tergin said.

"Every celebration that involves children, you hear the name Scholastic," Tergin said. "Here in Jeff City, they're such a great neighbor."

In a recent example, Scholastic volunteers participated in the annual United Way of Central Missouri Kids United FunFest. Scholastic has long been a supporter of the United Way.

FunFest was held for the first time at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City — so it would be near families affected by a May 22 tornado that damaged parts of eastern Jefferson City.

During the event, not only did Scholastic provide about 30 volunteers (employees who were paid for their time), but it also provided half the meals served (Hawthorn Bank provided the other half) and prizes — books — that many of the participating United Way partner agencies used for games they hosted. (During FunFest, United Way's 28 community partners are to host games and provide children with prizes. Several had run out of prizes.)

The company is committed to making Jefferson City a better place to live, said Tammy Chute, Scholastic vice president of human resources, in a statement to the News Tribune.

"At Scholastic, we embrace being a good corporate citizen, not because we are trying to increase our customer base but because we think it's the absolutely right thing to do," she said. "Our focus is particularly on children in our area who need a helping hand."

The company feels a responsibility to ensure children's well-being and education, she added.

United Way of Central Missouri President Ann Bax said the company has been deeply involved in community events since before she became involved in the nonprofit.

"When I started with the United Way, there was already a wonderful partnership with Scholastic," Bax said. "They already were huge sponsors for us for different types of events, not just the campaign."

The culture of an organization starts with the leadership, she continued.

"Equally important to us is their culture of giving their volunteer hours," she said. "They encourage their employees to volunteer of their own time."

The company also pays its own employees to volunteer during many events.

Scholastic Operations Supervisor Dan Luby said the company encourages volunteering as a way to give back to the community.

"I prefer to think of it as being part of the community. We need each other," he said. "Working at Scholastic, with a very supportive volunteer culture, is absolutely awesome and provides the opportunities and encouragement to not only be away from the work environment, but have support and coverage while away."

Someone must manage the hundreds upon hundreds of employees who volunteer for events. That person is Scholastic Community Development Manager Lori Massman.

Massman organizes volunteers for events like the FunFest and Days of Caring, the United Way's annual event in which hundreds of people fan out in the community, roll up their sleeves and work at the nonprofit's partner agencies, doing such tasks as mowing, pulling weeds, painting, serving meals, preparing backpacks and buddy packs, and performing a hundred other tasks.

She recruits Scholastic volunteers for Partners in Education schools. Partners in Education promotes the collaboration of Jefferson City area businesses and education communities and sets up programs that enable students to achieve academic excellence. Scholastic's partner schools and organizations include Clarence Lawson Elementary School, St. Martin Catholic Parish School, Belair Elementary School, Southwest Early Childhood Center, Parents as Teachers and the Special Learning Center.

"Of course, we provide books, but we also send volunteers out for school carnivals or even just to read to students in class," Massman said. "At Southwest, we provide volunteers for their first three to four days of school. We know those children have never been to school before, and it's traumatic."

Volunteers greet children as they exit cars and walk them to classrooms to make them feel secure. The volunteers also participate in Southwest Early Childhood Center's "Santa Day" event. Scholastic provides each of the SECC students with a holiday book. A secret Mrs. Santa provides knit hats for each student.

"If a little boy picks up a pink hat, he doesn't care," Massman said. "It's just the thought that, 'That's his hat. This is his book.'"

The children value the gifts, she said.

Volunteers man stations for students, where they can create ornaments, make cookies and sit on Santa's lap. (A Fulton man also provides gifts for each student.)

Scholastic also provided a grant that allowed the school to open a third classroom for 4-year-olds in 2012.

The company has provided incentives to help parents meet education goals for their preschool children at SECC.

Scholastic highlights young students' artwork.

"At FunFest, which we had last week," Massman said, "for some of those kids, that's the only outing they have all year long. It's sad, but it's reality."

Work outside the business takes a massive amount of effort. But she's never nervous about not having enough employees.

So many employees volunteer for most events she has to turn some away.

"It's easy for me to tell them what a difference they're making. But we wanted them to experience and actually see how they're making a difference," Massman said.

A long-time employee recently volunteered for an event at SECC. Massman expected her to come back and say she probably wouldn't want to do it again.

"She surprised me," Massman said. "She came back and said it was an amazing feeling. She was on board from here forward."

Some employees don't have email, so she posts items on message boards.

Several events, like serving in the Governor's Garden for the Harvest Festival, aren't paid, but the positions still fill up quickly.

A lot of employees volunteer for Serve Jeff City, an annual spring cleaning, according to Crystal Perkins, payment specialist and veteran volunteer.

When volunteers sign up for Serve Jefferson City, they sign up as a team, Massman said.

"You can feel it. It's like a big family," Bax said. "They put so much effort behind promoting the campaign rallies. They take time out, and every employee attends a campaign rally."

That's got to be a huge cost to the organization, she said, but it believes enough in its social responsibility to carve out that time for them.

The United Way does multiple rallies at Scholastic during its annual fundraising campaign — and oftentimes has an employee who speaks up and says how a United Way partner agency somehow helped them.

During her first campaign at Scholastic, Bax hosted a presentation with someone from the Dental, Eye and Shoe Program (now known as The Sneaker Project) and met a young man who had used the program.

"This young man, at the end, stood up," she said. "And it takes such courage to stand up. He said, 'Ever since I can remember, when I was in school, all my glasses came from the Dental, Eye and Shoe Program.'"

The man was preparing to receive his first check from Scholastic and said he would sign up to participate in paycheck deductions to support the United Way.

"There are lots of things that we do in the community," Massman said.

In July, coordinating with the Food Bank of Central Missouri, teams of employees volunteer for a full week to fill food boxes for children who have been let out of summer school.

"We've got that loll of about six weeks before regular school starts back," she said. "We've got kids who don't have food during the day. So, for one full week, we go over to the Presbyterian Church and deliver lunches to the kids. On that Friday, we give every child a book.

"It's kind of our mission to put books into the hands of kids — all kids. Some people in this area would find it hard to believe, but we have kids who don't have books at home. And it's inspirational just to see that smile on their faces (when they receive them)."

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