Patrick Robinson
Arbor Heights Elementary 5th grader Hannah Breuler works out a math problem on a newly donated whiteboard with the help of her teacher, Ruben Gonzalez.

Bellevue-based tech company makes sizeable donation to Arbor Heights Elementary in West Seattle

When Seattle Public Schools decided to host media for an Arbor Heights Elementary walkthrough in advance of the school levy votes in February (both of which passed), it was a calculated decision.

The 65-year-old school is in desperate need of replacement and with the renewal of the Building Excellence levy, they are on schedule for just that by 2016. It’s was an ideal location for SPS to illustrate the need to pass those levies with overcrowded classrooms, ancient, useless chalkboards, pervasive heating problems and on, and on, and on.

Cherie Wentz Blehm, marketing director for an IT outfit in Bellevue, had never heard of Arbor Heights until she was driving to work one morning in January.

“I was listening to Linda Thomas on KIRO 97.3 driving into work on my hour-long commute each day,“ when she heard Thomas’s levy report using Arbor Heights’ situation as an emotional backdrop. “What got me was when they spoke of Mr. Fisk’s blackboard that could no longer take chalk, that’s how badly they were in need of supplies to educate kids.”

It just so happened that Blehm’s company, Adaptiva, was in the process of moving to a new facility and they had a significant amount of office furniture and supplies not slated to make the move.

Blehm, who said she spends a lot of her free time donating and helping out children and animal charities, had an epiphany.

“Let’s give Mr. Fisk something to write on,” she thought.

“What inspired me was listening to … Principal Collins on the(KIRO) interview,” Blehm added. “ I didn’t realize what dire need our school are in. I don’t have a child in school, so I’m oblivious to it. When I heard about this I thought, “You have got to be kidding me; this is what our kids are dealing with?’”

Blehm got in touch with Tracy Hughes at Arbor Heights to iron out the specifics and Barin Yoder from Yoder Construction volunteered to help transport items to the school, including office chairs, computer screens, several white boards (upon which people can write!), tables, basically “anything a teacher could use.” Getting two large whiteboards out of Adaptiva’s old office required sawing them in half for transport, but Blehm wanted to make sure Arbor Heights got every writeable surface they could gather.

In early March, Arbor Heights Principal Christy Collins and a group of teachers met with Blehm and Yoder over a few weekends to accept the donation.

Collins said most of the new equipment has already been incorporated into classrooms, including slimmer monitors and clean, workable whiteboards. Comfortable office chairs were seized upon quickly by staff in need of an upgrade.

She noted that Mr. Fisk (Blehm’s inspiration) will receive a new whiteboard over spring break.

“We just feel like the community cares about our kids, our kids feel like the community cares about us, and we are very positive about our future,” Collins said of the Adaptiva donation and other businesses and individuals who have stepped up to help out in the past several months.

“It felt so good, it was so awesome,” Blehm said. “I can’t tell you what a rush it was to do something that made a difference. As far as I’m concerned kids are our best 401k plan, so take care of them and educate them because they are our future.”

Spreading the idea
Blehm, who has spent several years working in technology (often times with big corporations) , said the experience made her think about spreading this idea of donating directly to schools and other organizations with diminishing budgets.

“This stuff (leftover office equipment) is dumped by the truckloads by large companies,” she said. “ I’ve worked for large technology companies and the stuff they throw away: it’s wasteful. So to go and donate it to schools and other organizations that are in need and can really benefit from this … what’s better than that?”

She’s made several connections in her time within the industry, and said it might be time to put those to good use.

“I’ve got a lot of friends in technology and I can poke a lot of ribs, trust me,” Blehm said.

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