It’s not in Bill Bateman’s nature to wear a pencil costume around the office.
“People were incredibly shocked that I would subject myself to that,” he said.
Bateman is methodical, low-key. He usually doesn’t draw attention to himself. But when there’s a good cause on the line, his typical restraint is quickly erased in the name of public service.
“Bill got me out of my shell in putting that crayon box costume on,” said Kimberly Charles, recounting the day she, herself, spent clad in a Crayola box. “He talked me into it.”
The good cause? Classroom Central, a Charlotte, North Carolina, nonprofit connecting teachers and students from low-or moderate-income schools with the supplies they need.
We instill a huge responsibility in teachers but don’t provide the resources and supplies they need to do their jobs as effectively as they want to do.
Bill Bateman, Diversified Industries Credit Executive for Regions
“We instill a huge responsibility in teachers but don’t provide the resources and supplies they need to do their jobs as effectively as they want to do,” said Bateman, describing a challenge affecting many school districts.
Classroom Central also lifts a financial burden for families.
“Knowing these items are getting directly into the hands of students is so important,” said Charles. “It’s providing relief for parents who might have to otherwise decide between food and school supplies.”
Bateman purchased the pencil costume two years ago to promote Regions Bank’s annual supply drive in Charlotte. Items weren’t being collected as quickly as usual, so Bateman decided to think outside the crayon box.
“I wanted to create greater enthusiasm without putting pressure on people,” said Bateman, the Diversified Industries Credit Executive for Regions’ Corporate Banking group. “I carried pencils with me, tapping people on the shoulder. And I told them, ‘In case you don’t know it, there’s a school supply campaign going on.’”
It worked. Donations soared.
Volunteers are key to Classroom Central’s success. The nonprofit collected and distributed over one million pounds of free supplies last year.
“Our volunteers, donors and supporters are the lifeblood of what we do,” said Darden Blow, Director of Community Engagement with Classroom Central. “We’re going to really miss seeing volunteers like Bill and Kimberly and the tangible way they promote our drive as we conduct our 2020 campaign virtually.”
“I’m concerned about how things will go this year,” added Charles, who serves as an Executive Administrative Assistant for Regions’ Energy and Natural Resources team. “We’ve traditionally filled 10 to 20 boxes with supplies plus cash donations from our associates.”
But children still need to learn this fall. Classroom Central anticipates the need for supplies may actually double. And the bank is stepping up. Regions’ financial commitment has expanded from its initial $250 annual contribution years ago to $2,000 today.
Regions received Classroom Central’s Bronze Star in 2018 and a Silver Star in 2019 for its support.
Charles launched the Charlotte market’s first supplies drive in 2010 due to the need she observed. Since that time, bank associates have personally donated 100-plus boxes of supplies, with many also contributing their own funds to benefit the nonprofit. Charles credits Bateman for expanding her involvement with Classroom Central beyond the annual collection drive.
“Through Bill, I started going to some of their events,” she said. “I then began volunteering, sorting goods at the warehouse. Stocking the shelves at Classroom Central with those supplies gave me a sense of helping the community.”
For Bateman, plugging in with Classroom Central was the result of asking a simple question 18 years ago. He was volunteering to read to pre-kindergarten students in Lisa Schreibeis’s classroom.
“I asked Lisa where she received her classroom supplies, and she mentioned Classroom Central,” he recalled.
His volunteerism started with a couple hours here and there. Now, a man who you might call a number-one champion of Classroom Central is perfectly comfortable donning a number-two pencil costume to recruit more support.
“Bill is generous beyond measure and truly a treasure to Classroom Central,” said Karen Calder, the nonprofit’s Executive Director – and Bateman’s former neighbor.
“I’ll always remember a call I received one evening from Bill,” reflects Calder. “He phoned me from my driveway where he and a neighbor had an entire carload of crayons to donate. I think they bought every crayon in the store!”
Bateman continues reading to students, following Lisa Schreibeis to Reid Park Academy, which also receives supplies from Classroom Central.
“I get to see the full circle,” said Bateman. “I volunteer at Reid. I get to see the Reid Park teachers shop at Classroom Central. I get to see the excitement and appreciation they have. And I see the application of those donated supplies.”
Earlier this year, Bateman, with teammates Claire Thwaites and Jared Hall, recruited colleagues to join them in reading to classes through a broader initiative at Reid Park.
“We had some positive momentum before COVID-19,” said Bateman. “Everybody was thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to do it.”
While the pandemic has temporarily halted those activities, Bateman, Charles and others know that, in time, they’ll be back in schools and the Classroom Central store. But for now, they’re still able to lend support through remote volunteer opportunities Classroom Central has established.
Charles and her 16-year-old son are creating student flashcards from home. The investments of time and supplies they’re making will pay future dividends.
“These are our future associates, our future leaders,” said Charles. “It’s an investment in growth to give them the future.”
Bateman also views it as helping on a larger scale.
“It’s important we support our broader communities,” he said. “This is about the power of giving. Many within our community are disadvantaged for one reason or another. We can reach out to help them get themselves to a better place. It helps us get ourselves to a better place.”
For the record, Bateman has donated the costumes to Classroom Central.
“How often do you really need a pencil or a crayon box costume?” he asked.
Any time there’s a good cause on the line.