Horace Mann helps teachers and students

compass for kids
Club Compass participants show off their tie-dye T-shirts. Photo by compass for kids

By Janet Seitz

Among Springfield’s major employers is Horace Mann, founded in 1945 and the nation’s largest financial services company focused on providing educators and school employees with insurance and retirement solutions.

With that presence comes responsibility to give back to its educator base and the communities in which they work and live. Historically, the company has supported educators in various ways, including locally through contributions to United Way of Central Illinois and Central Illinois Food Bank, said Ryan Greenier, Horace Mann’s chief investment officer.

Last year, Horace Mann teamed up with financial partner Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and its Targeted Impact Fund to distribute $105,000 in grant funds focused on closing student opportunity gaps to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois, The Matthew Project, Compass for Kids and Springfield Urban League. Those grants allowed the organizations to assist nearly 500 additional low-to-moderate-income families with targeted educational support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Safe and supervised remote learning sites are critical when parents are working outside the home to provide for their family,” said Tiffany Mathis, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois. For other families, she said, a challenge to supporting learners is reliable internet access, which was provided to 200 students through this grant. The Matthew Project, a program that provides clothing, food, tutoring and mentoring to homeless Springfield District 186 students, partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs to expand existing remote learning opportunities for the Matthew Project children as well as provide food assistance.

Compass for Kids expanded its virtual Club Compass program for at-risk students in Springfield schools. It offers social-emotional lessons and support, enrichment activities, a book club and meals for students. The Springfield Urban League used its grant for emergency assistance for families facing uncertain circumstances with housing and overall financial stability in addition to providing digital learning support.

“I’m a numbers guy,” said Greenier. “When we heard from these groups that the pandemic placed a challenge on their traditional ways of fundraising and they had to change their models, looking to more private sources, we were able to provide funds. The personal stories and the impact made on organizations and the individuals and families resonated.”

The pandemic, among other issues, caused the company to look deeper into its giving strategy. “We looked to best amplify our giving and honor employees who work to support local organizations,” said Greenier. The result was the formation of a nonprofit organization, the Horace Mann Edcators Foundation, seeded with an initial contribution of $1 million earlier this year.

The Foundation’s primary focus will be on providing resources for needs that specific educators, schools or districts identify as critical to students’ success, as well as for solutions to systemic issues identified as roadblocks. Applications for funds are by invitation only.

The Foundation’s initial grant was awarded to Springfield School District 186. The $25,000 grant will enable the district to provide Second Step, a web-based social-emotional learning program to all of the district’s elementary and middle school classrooms. The web-based program covers concepts like goal setting, emotional management and problem solving.

“Teaching concepts, vocabulary and activities associated with social-emotional learning will help our students to be more engaged with school,” said superintendent Jennifer Gill. “This is especially critical as students navigate the transition back to in-school learning from a remote learning environment. We are grateful to the Foundation for allowing District 186 to provide this resource to our teachers and students.”

The Foundation will also recognize the dedication of Horace Mann employees to making their communities a better place by helping to support causes important to them and to projects that support diversity and inclusion initiatives. It will match annual Horace Mann employee donations to some 100 approved nonprofit organizations of up to $100 per employee.

“It’s nice to have an employee component,” said Greenier. “It’s a well-rounded mix to spread the giving, and the Foundation match dollars make a larger impact.” Horace Mann also partners with DonorsChoose.org, a national nonprofit that assists educators with needed classroom funds. Many teachers pay for supplies out of their own pockets because of budget shortages. “Because we do have a national imprint, we encourage teachers to post their needs there,” he said. “The real power is teaching educators to go back to the well. This gives teachers a lot of latitude for funding.”

By setting up the Foundation with a sizable grant, Greenier said, “We can grow and amplify our giving efforts and focus on those projects that help educators be successful with their students.”

Ultimately, Horace Mann hopes its charitable efforts not only help those in need, but help retain teachers. “The key is to help educations with solutions,” said Michelle Eccles, Horace Mann’s public relations manager. “If we can help them with those, they are more likely to stay in the profession.”

Janet Seitz is a local communications professional, writer and artist. To share your story, contact her at [email protected].

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