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AbbVie, Heart of America volunteers transform Creech Road Elementary learning environment

AbbVie volunteers work on a mural at Creech Road Elementary as part of the company’s sixth annual Week of Possibilities. (Photo courtesy of Creech Road Elementary)
AbbVie volunteers work on a mural at Creech Road Elementary as part of the company’s sixth annual Week of Possibilities. (Photo courtesy of Creech Road Elementary)

School may be out of session but the halls of Creech Road Elementary were buzzing with life.

Volunteers from AbbVie, a pharmaceutical company, partnered with Heart of America Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to volunteer work and remodeling schools, to complete projects benefiting the community. The events are part of AbbVie’s sixth annual Week of Possibilities, where local employees participate in volunteer work. One of those projects was sprucing up Creech Road Elementary, a Wake County school serving around 600 students.

The Tier 1 school is in need of some help in creating an environment where students feel engaged and want to learn, Creech Road Elementary principal Margie Fowler said.

“Part of our mission is to promote excellence and to promote a spirit of high expectations that begins with a community of learners, a community of teachers, but it also begins with the environment that children come into,” Fowler said.

When Fowler came to the school 2 1/2 years ago she found a building that was “grimy and dirty.” The school hadn’t been painted in about 20 years. The principal said that when a school is bright and clean then it shows to the community, the parents, and the children that they are committed to education.

“When people come into this building we want them to feel welcomed,” Fowler said. “When they come into this building they will feel like their children will get a good education here and that people care.”

Volunteers painted six murals, created LEGO wall displays, and built mobile STEM stations for students to get more involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. AbbVie and Heart of America Foundation also donated 10 notebook computers and packed books and materials for students when they return to school.

The words painted on the walls aren’t just pretty words, Fowler said. They mean something. Words like “we invent, we design, we think, we problem solve,” speak to the school’s mission.

“What you are doing today matters,” Fowler told the volunteers during orientation. “This is going to have an impact on our students, their achievements, and with how they feel and the pride they have for this school.”

Angie Halamandaris, founder of Heart of America Foundation, said her foundation has been doing this work for more than 20 years. This year is the sixth year they have partnered with AbbVie to complete volunteer projects like transforming school spaces. Projects are currently underway all across the country.

Heart of America Foundation has worked with Wake County Public Schools over the years to identify schools that need help.

“AbbVie has a big presence in this area and they wanted to have an impact in this community, so we worked with the district to identify schools that really need more resources and need some support,” Halamandaris said. “Typically the schools that we work with have populations with high free and reduced lunch numbers.”

Creech Road Elementary qualified partly because more than 70% of it students are considered economically disadvantaged, but another factor was the school’s leadership.

“We also look for strong leadership,” Halamandaris said. “This is a tremendous amount of resources that AbbVie is contributing to the school so we want to make sure these resources are being utilized and are really benefiting the students.”

Halamandaris said this particular project is focused on STEM education because of how critical STEM skills now.

“The jobs are changing,” Halamandaris said. “By the time these kids get into high school and graduate, a lot of the jobs that exist now aren’t going to be here, so the tools that AbbVie is providing to the school are going to give them all kinds of skills to get the jobs of the future.”

BJ Peterson, an AbbVie representative and one of the coordinators of the event, said the project could have a larger impact that extends beyond the school walls.

“Who [are] going to be the ones to be bench scientists to actually come up and work with these new molecules? Who is actually going to get those to patients to help save and impact lives?” Peterson asked. “It could be some of these students who are sitting in the chairs in this school.”