Care to Learn founder Doug Pitt holds a ceremonial check for $100,000, a donation from longtime supporter Rob Voss. Voss stands with Care to Learn CEO Krystal Simon in the background. Voss presented the donation at an event Thursday celebrating Care to Learn’s 2 millionth need met. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

Locker No. 39 at Fordland High School needs no key or combination to open. It’s filled with food and snack items, different brands of deodorant and hygiene products, and new socks, gloves and hats. 

All students know they are welcome to take what they need, whenever they need it. 

Every morning the school’s special education teacher and Care to Learn liaison Becky Haynes restocks the locker.

Fordland special education teacher and cross country coach Becky Haynes also serves as the school district’s Care to Learn liaison. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

“Anything a kid might need, but might be embarrassed to ask for — they can stop by and grab,” Haynes said. “It’s close to my classroom so if there is something not in there, the kids know they can pop their head in, come over and ask me. And we take care of whatever issue they might have.”

The locker is just one way Haynes operates Fordland’s Care to Learn Chapter. 

Care to Learn was created in 2008 to provide immediate funding to meet emergent needs in the areas of health, hunger and hygiene so every Springfield Public Schools student can be successful.

Founded by Springfield businessman Doug Pitt, Care to Learn has since expanded to now partner with 38 school districts across Missouri. 

Pitt came up with the idea after hearing stories about a fifth-grade boy who was teased because he had to wear his mom’s jeans to school and of siblings who had to share a toothbrush.

He recalled that boy and the siblings at an event Thursday evening to celebrate Care to Learn having met 2 million student needs. The event was held at the Hickory Hills Country Club.

“The humility of sharing a toothbrush. We are so much better than that,” Pitt said. “The fifth-grade boy — and we are talking about a pair of jeans — he could care less about math and care less about school. The only thing in the world he wants is to disappear because he is being made fun of.”

Business model allows flexibility, quickness

Pitt went on to talk about the Care to Learn business model. Care to Learn doesn’t have a big warehouse where items are stored. Rather, it is a fund that is administered within the school districts themselves. 

Each school has a Care to Learn liaison, usually a teacher or coach. When a school employee encounters a student with a need related to health, hunger or hygiene, that person notifies the liaison who immediately requests support through their Care to Learn Chapter.

The idea is to get the kid back in the classroom and ready to learn as soon as possible. 

“I wanted it to be private, behind the scenes, but also be quick,” Pitt said. “There wasn’t going to be a lot of bureaucracy or forms to fill out. Find the kid, just take care of them and get them back into the classroom.

About 130 people gathered Thursday evening to celebrate Care to Learn’s 2 millionth need met. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

“Health, hunger and hygiene: these are the things that can affect a child’s ability to learn and concentrate,” he said. “When we remove those barriers of poverty, they can learn.” 

Over the years, Care to Learn has been providing funds for a wide range of things including bus passes, dental work, eyeglasses, hygiene items, clothes and shoes.

At Fordland, Haynes created a Care to Learn clothing closet that even accepts formal wear. 

“I gave a prom dress to a girl today,” Haynes said. “Health, hunger, hygiene … also includes mental health. If this little girl didn’t have a prom dress and couldn’t go to prom, that would be a pretty sad deal. Especially for a senior, that is a mental health crisis.”

Being a chapter of Care to Learn and having that recognizable green handprint logo makes it easier to raise funds for the program, Haynes added. 

“Most people in southwest Missouri know what Care to Learn is and what it stands for,” she said. “They know it’s an honest organization that they can give their money to. 

“(Care to Learn) backs us up with something as simple as a Visa card. If a kid needs it and I don’t have it on hand, I can go get it that day,” she continued. “There’s no red tape. I don’t have to fill out a requisition. I don’t have to use my own money and be paid back. I have a Visa card issued to me through Care to Learn, and I just send in the receipts, and it’s taken care of that quick. There’s no hassle.”

Before the event concluded, Rob Voss was called to the stage. Voss is a long-time supporter of Care to Learn. Pitt announced that Voss had made a $100,000 donation to Care to Learn to celebrate the organization’s 2 millionth need met. 

“We are celebrating 2 million needs. That’s 2 million times a kid heard yes,” Pitt said. “That’s pretty good. They are used to hearing no, sorry, wish we could, next time. Not yes. And 2 million times we got to put that smile on their face and just get them back in the classroom.”

Molly Shultz with TransLand Trucking parked her semi outside an event celebrating Care to Learn Thursday at Hickory Hills Country Club. Shultz explained that TransLand is donating 5 cents for every mile she drives in the Care to Learn semi. So far, she’s driven the truck some 500,000 miles and the company has donated about $30,000. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

For more information about volunteering or to donate to Care to Learn, call 417-862-7771 or visit caretolearn.org

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald