Rivers Casino in Des Plaines made a nearly $30,000 donation to East Maine School District 63. Rivers casino.
The donation from the Rivers Casino Foundation will purchase 90 tablet computers for the roughly 300 kids who are enrolled in the district's K-8 after-school enrichment program, called Total Learning Community (TLC).
"It's a very big donation for us, we're delighted to have it. In today's world, a lot of agencies are seeking donations, and so lot are vying for the same dollars," said Pam Surber, TLC director, who approached Rivers Casino in hopes of securing some community funding, even though D63 doesn't serve many Des Plaines addresses.
Superintendent Dr. Scott Clay said the TLC Program has relied on grants and donations to stay operational since it was started in 2001. The donation from Rivers Casino, he said, is one of the highest ever received.
When asked about the ethics of accepting donations from a company that is based on gambling, Clay said his team decided the opportunity for education shouldn't be missed.
"We certainly discussed that, and our feeling is that they [Rivers Casino] are part of our community," Clay said, "and they're trying to be a productive part by giving back, so we didn't want to have our children miss out on some opportunities because of that."
Since opening its doors in 2011, Rivers Casino has donated more than $3 million to charity. This is the casino's first donation to D63. The taxes that are generated from the local casino, Clay said, benefit Des Plaines School District 62, not D63.
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"As a school district that is primarily in unincorporated Cook County, those opportunities aren't as common for us as they are in some other communities," Clay said. "So it's definitely very much appreciated, and anything that companies can do to help our kids, we're happy to work with them."
The district's TLC Program provides after-school supervision and enrichment activities until 6 p.m. for K-8 students as well as full-day programs during spring and summer breaks.
Surber said activities range from homework help to sports to arts and crafts. She said kids enrolled in TLC often have better grades and are more confident. During spring break, she said, therapy dogs that work at Lutheran General Hospital visited the students, and the local public library provided an exotic animal show.
"So when I say 'community,' I mean that the community really comes out to support the program," Surber said. "There's academic enrichment, cultural enrichment, arts and crafts, it's physically healthy for them to be active after school rather than just in front of a screen watching TV or something, and there's many, many benefits."
Kids can also get help learning English as a second language, she said, while parents who work until 5 p.m. know their children are safe. All of this for prices that Surber refers to as "really, really competitive."
"They're actually the lowest around for this kind of quality of experience," she said. "We try really hard to keep the rates applicable to everybody, and that's where the foundation comes in to support our work."
At $29,925, the Rivers Casino donation will pay for three sets of 30 tablet computers, which will be rotated among the six D63 schools each day. The 10-inch tablets will have Internet access for homework, and TLC is also securing licenses for educational programs.
"It's really wonderful that Rivers Casino selected TLC, and I know that the kids will have something that they can use every day," Surber said. "Some of them do not have access to the Internet at home, so this will be especially important for them, so we're really, really grateful for that."
Surber said the tablets will keep the TLC Program and their kids up to date with technology.
Like Clay, she also has no reservations about the school district accepting donations from a casino.
"They're in our community, they're reaching out to us, we're gratefully accepting it, and we're just thrilled," she said. "If anyone else would like to donate to the program, we always accept donations —, equipment, games, arts and crafts supplies, sports equipment —, we're always happy to receive that, and we appreciate that."
Learn more about the D63's TLC program at http://www.emsd63.org.
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Dayna Fields is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.