"I remember when I was a student, and they put in a new playground and some benches. I remember how happy I was,” Venegas said. "I wanted to go back and give the kids something else to feel happy about.”
Venegas and 40 other newly hired employees at Lowe's first San Francisco store gave students at his former school a memory they hope lasts just as long. Lowe's Heroes gave Malcolm X Academy a makeover, and much more, if you ask Principal Imani Cooley.
"One thing Lowe's did that was more important than anything else, they brought the community together. They let the children know we are not doing this by ourselves,” Cooley said. "If you don't see people working toward change, you don't know what change is.”
She was nearly in tears as she thanked all the Lowe's Heroes for painting and landscaping the 54-year-old campus in Hunters Point, a low-income area that has had some of the highest unemployment and homicide rates in the city. Lowe's Heroes painted benches, blacktops and the front of the school. They also pulled weeds, planted flowers and remulched the entire area. To help kick-start the K–5 school's nutrition center project dedicated to teaching students about growing and eating healthy foods, Lowe's volunteers filled eight planters with soil and fertilizer and provided seeds and dozens of tools to bring the gardens to life.
Malcolm X Academy also received a grant from Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation, which has funded improvements at more than 5,400 schools, like Malcolm X Academy, through Lowe's Toolbox for Education® grant program. With San Francisco schools facing budget cuts of more than $100 million, Lowe's assistance took on added significance.
Cooley said it contributes to the climate change she's cultivating at Malcolm X Academy, which was threatened with closure in 2004, experienced six campus lockdowns the following year and was shaken again in 2006 when three former students were victims in three neighborhood shootings during the same week.
"When you've been neglected for a long time, you feel that nobody cares,” said Cooley, who sees her school as a community hub and her kids as catalysts for change. "Lowe's did their part to make the school a welcoming, exciting place for kids to learn, and it connects the kids right back to the community. It tells them not to just settle for what is, but to work toward change.”
The week after the Lowe's Heroes project, Cooley heard something new in the voices of students playing in the schoolyard. "I heard them talking about, 'We're going to plant this' and 'My teacher is going to do this,' " Cooley said. "All the things you don't usually hear. Lowe's help moved us in the direction from hopeless to hopeful, to being powerful instead of powerless. And not doing it in isolation, but opening up the possibilities.”