Perfetti Van Melle teams up with United Way, Cincy Bell on ‘digital equity’ Community Day for students

Perfetti Van Melle teamed up with United Way of Greater Cincinnati and Cincinnati Bell for its annual Community Day to help deliver internet access to students throughout Northern Kentucky.

The company celebrated the support at an employee drive-through “parade” this week in its parking lot.

The Erlanger-based company that makes and markets Airheads and Mentos candy, gum and mints for distribution across the United States donated $10,000 toward the Northern Kentucky Digital Equity Initiative for Students, specifically targeting the Erlanger/Elsmere School District in its backyard, but is also making money available for students in five Northern Kentucky counties to access Wi-Fi for remote learning.

The celebration of the donation took place during Perfetti Van Melle’s Community Day 2020 employee celebration, a socially-distanced drive-through parade in the company’s Erlanger Turfway Road parking lot.

It included the presentation of a “giant check” to United Way.

“It’s a privilege to help make life sweeter in our community through supporting this Digital Equity Initiative,” said Sylvia Buxton, president and CEO of Perfetti Van Melle North America. “Giving back where our Perfetti Van Melle employees live and work is a big part of our identity and values. We love that we can help many more students in Northern Kentucky get equal access to virtual learning, and help close the learning achievement gap, especially with all the challenges students and families are facing because of COVID-19.

“Since we could not hold our traditional yearly all-company shut down for a day of hands-on community service due to COVID-19, we were thrilled to discover we could use our Community Day resources to make a big virtual impact in the community through United Way’s Digital Equity Initiative.”

“We appreciate Perfetti Van Melle for recognizing the great need in their own back yard and stepping forward to be part of a United solution,” said Moira Weir, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “Maintaining educational and social ties during COVID-19 is the way to academic growth and positive mental health. Let’s leave no student behind.”

The “NKY Digital Equity Initiative for Students” focuses on increasing digital equity through pilot programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky tailored to meet the needs of local school districts. These pilot programs help partners identify learnings and best practices necessary to expand the Digital Equity Initiative program to additional public school students. More than 1,000 households were already enrolled in the program prior to the Perfetti Van Melle donation.

Amanda Greenwell, director of United Way’s Northern Kentucky Area Center, said approximately 10 percent of the 60,000 K-12 students in Northern Kentucky lack Internet service at home. Digital inequity creates unequal access to information, technology and opportunities to learn, which further widens the well-documented achievement gap. The ramifications of unequal digital access became particularly clear in March when schools transitioned to remote learning and many students could not participate.

“Virtual learning presents a unique set of challenges to any family, but a lack of reliable internet access makes things especially difficult right out of the gate,” said Stefanie Stubblefield, instructional coordinator for Technology, Erlanger-Elsmere Schools, who also noted Perfetti Van Melle’s donation expands the number of district households receiving help from the Digital Equity Initiative.

“The United Way’s NKY Digital Equity Initiative has been an invaluable asset, allowing more students to engage in a rich digital learning experience by providing affordable, high-quality internet access to 189 households in our district. We are so grateful for this layer of community support and the essential role it’s playing during these unique circumstances.

United Way has worked with multiple funders and Cincinnati Bell to extend access to nearly 1,500 students in Kenton, Boone, Campbell, Pendleton and Grant counties. Those who want to support the effort can text “NKYWIFI” to 71777. A $78 donation connects a household for six months of service at $12.99 a month.

“We know we still have children in need, so every dollar counts,” Greenwell said. “School districts throughout Northern Kentucky have aggressively identified families to ensure everyone has equal access.”

Cincinnati Bell sees digital equity as a priority on both sides of the river, labeling the effort “Connect Our Students.”

“It is critical that all students in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have access to education – which means that all students must also have access to the Internet to participate in remote learning,” said Leigh Fox, President and CEO of Cincinnati Bell. “Cincinnati Bell has invested over $1 billion to build out our fiber network – but that investment means nothing if students can’t access the Internet for school. We are proud to be part of this program and to be working with so many great organizations and individuals on this effort.”