During the 16th Annual Comcast Cares Day at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy, 214 N. Lavergne Ave., dozens of volunteers from Comcast and the education organization City Year joined with teachers, students, and community stakeholders to participate in a beautification project on April 22.

Comcast Cares Day represents one of the largest corporate days of service in the nation, with projects occurring simultaneously throughout the country. Comcast held two events in Chicago, one at Spencer and another at CHA Mary Hartwell Catherwood Apartments for Seniors in Lakeview.

Kelly Dean, principal at Spencer Technology Academy, said changing the culture and climate of the school’s space is one of the school’s major needs. She said her students needed the investment because sometimes they feel no one cares about them. Spencer has 680 students from pre-K through 8th grade.

“I’m like a kid on Christmas,” said Kelly. “Comcast Cares Day is really important to us. It’s really an investment in making sure the school feels like a school, that it feels like somewhere kids should be, with the idea that if the school starts to look pretty that’ll also change the mindset of how students treat the building.”

Dean, who is the third principal in four years at Spencer, said she is “not going anywhere” and stressed continuity is key for students to feel that the school is a “safe space”.

Dean said volunteers created a Dr. Seuss mural in the primary building, installed accent walls in 10 of the primary classrooms, installed a chalkboard walk in their art room, built cubbies for students to store their personal items, built bookcases, installed interactive whiteboard tables, painted murals on every floor of the building and repainted the cafeteria, among other tasks.

Rebeca Nieves Huffman, vice president and executive director for City Year, said her organization has partnered with Comcast for Comcast Cares Day since 2001. 

“The reason why we did this is because Comcast and City Year believe our students deserve beautiful spaces to learn in,” said Huffman.

Huffman said she spoke with Dr. Janice Jackson, CPS’ chief education officer, about which schools should be under consideration for a clean-up and said it was Jackson who recommended Spencer. Huffman noted a potential project would be optimal for City Year if it could engage at least 200 volunteers. 

“This is what Comcast employees do along with City Year corps members and the City Year family,” Huffman said. “We pick a school every year with Comcast and we beautify it and that’s what our students deserve.”

Huffman said she’s constantly reminded that people want to get involved and make a difference which makes collecting volunteers easier.

Janet Garrett, a Comcast employee in the sales department, said she selected the Spencer project because she hails from the West Side of Chicago and wanted to help her daughter obtain community service hours for the National Honors Society.

“You just feel better about yourself when you decide to give to others,” said Garrett, adding that the event was “awesome.”

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (Dist.-1), who spoke at the start of the event, said the volunteer projects would “help raise the level of beautification in the neighborhood”.

“This is all about raising the hopes of the kids who actually call this school home,” said Boykin. “This gives us all hope that we can put our hands to the plow and we can do some work that’s meaningful and that the children will actually benefit from.”