Holmes Elementary School in west Mesa is getting a hand up by one community member who’s reaching into his wallet to help prepare its preschool children for the future.
John Whiteman of Paradise Valley, who owned Empire Southwest in Mesa, donated $100,000 to the school through Mesa United Way and has committed the same amount each year for at least five years.
Mesa United Way president Carol McCormack said the donation is the second biggest ever given to the organization.
Whiteman said he wanted to donate the money to a school in the Mesa Unified School District that needed it most. After talking with Superintendent Debra Duvall, he chose Holmes.
About 89 percent of students at the school near Mesa Drive and Southern Avenue qualify for free and reducedpriced meals from the federal government. Only three other schools in the district have a higher percentage of lowincome families.
"The vision is that all of the kids graduating from sixth grade in Holmes will meet or exceed the state standards," Whiteman said.
Plans are under way to reach out to community members and teach parents of young children about early childhood education. Whiteman said he hopes the project at the school also will serve as an example of what communities can do to increase scholastic achievement.
"We can throw a lot of money at juvenile delinquents, remedial programs," Whiteman said. "But that is a solution going after the symptoms."
He said a better approach is to teach parents what they need to do in the first six years of a child’s life.
Details are still being worked out as to how the program will look, but Whiteman hopes to recruit the Mesa police and fire departments to educate parents at the very start of childhood — during a mother’s pregnancy. Whiteman also hopes to get books in homes across the community.
Holmes principal Darlene Johnson said she’s excited about the potential partnerships.
"What we want to do is see that make a difference with kids and with families," Johnson said.