University City

Effort seeks to help schools in Governor’s Village in University City

Rob Rogers wants to be a transformative force in University City.

His excitement and enthusiasm are contagious.

Rogers is owner and operator of the Chick-fil-A at University Place, but he said he is meant to be part of something far greater than transactions at his restaurant.

One of his goals is to improve the quality of life for students at the four schools that make up Governor’s Village, through a project called University Connect. Rogers helped create the collaborative effort with the community and the four schools: Zebulon B. Vance High, Nathaniel Alexander Middle, Morehead STEM and James Martin Middle. Together the schools enroll about 4,600 students.

“Those schools in Governor’s Village were created to be a learning community with support from area businesses, but it took a different direction,” said Rogers.

The original idea was that local businesses would contribute to the four schools through various efforts, supported strongly by IBM, said Ariel Corbett, coordinator for community partnerships for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The plan was for businesses to contribute with programs including mentoring/tutoring programs, access to technology and information, job-shadowing events, professional development for teachers, volunteering by the community and beautification projects.

As things turned out, the schools didn’t get the business support envisioned; one factor in that may have been that IBM moved from its campus in University Research Park.

Rogers is armed with facts to support his case. Vance High alone claims about 100 homeless students, he said.

As part of the University Connect project, Rogers is working on a long-term effort to build partnerships with local businesses and individuals to help those schools. He came up with the idea of the Governor’s Village “empty toolbox” as an analogy of how the schools need deposits from the community.

“I’d like to think of this as a ‘movement,’ with folks saying, ‘I’m in … how can I help?’ ” he said.

In January, Rogers and CMS sponsored the first meeting to cast the “empty toolbox” idea he wanted to share. “I asked the attendees to come back in March to help fill the toolbox with their time, talent and treasures,” he said.

Rogers said he believes everyone is a steward over some resources they can share. “We can coordinate this activity into something long-term and strategic,” he said.

The March meeting was so successful, he said, that many people were moved to tears.

“About 90 people attended the meeting,” Rogers said. “One by one, individuals got up to load the empty toolbox. One lawyer said, ‘I’m putting myself in the toolbox.’ ”

A variety of people attended the March meeting, including business and community leaders, members of the faith community, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, local hospital representatives and more.

Part of the goal for the Governor’s Village Toolbox concept is to fill the 2014-15 calendars of the schools that make up Governor’s Village. “Tools are already being utilized, because TIAA CREF has scheduled a workday of volunteer service,” Rogers said. “People should ask themselves, “What is my sphere of influence … and what is it that I can give?”

Corbett will help coordinate donations to the University Connect/Governor’s Village Toolbox.

“I will meet with the four principals and strategically place the donated resources based on the need in the schools,” Corbett said. Corbett is one of 10 coordinators for community partnerships for the school district. She also works with Martin Luther King Middle, Hidden Valley Elementary, University Meadows Elementary and Newell Elementary schools.

“Schools can always use volunteers, mentors, sponsorships and support services,” she said. Anyone who wants to help the schools can go to the CMS website or email Corbett at

Corbett said the schools need programs and resources that will enhance everyday learning and prepare students for college and careers. Examples would be providing volunteers and sponsorships, mentors, sponsors for literacy/math events, reading buddies, donations of resources and incentives for learning, guest speakers, and workforce/career opportunities including field trips, job-shadowing and internships.

Rogers also is working on another big project, called the Governor’s Village 5K. It is part of a national effort called the Chick-fil-A Connect Race, scheduled for 8 a.m. April 26 at Nathaniel Alexander Middle School.

Proceeds from the race will go to the schools in Governor’s Village and to the Limbs for Life Foundation, a global nonprofit organization that provides prosthetics assistance to amputees.

Limbs for Life also raises awareness of the challenges amputees face. Its efforts help more than 150,000 people every year.

Martha Nauman, a teacher at Nathaniel Alexander Elementary for 14 years, will be a special participant in the race. Nauman lost both of her feet in 2013 after dealing with some very complicated medical challenges.

Nauman’s goal is to complete the 5K and to celebrate life, determination and the support she has received from her Governor’s Village family.

Rogers has a few goals for the Governor’s Village 5K. “This event is geared to provide hope and encouragement to amputees and their families,” he said. “It is something for the community to link arms around. It is also important to these 4,600 children and their families.”

There is still a need for sponsors, volunteers, runners and more. A free family fun zone will be available for children younger than 12 from 7-10 a.m. For details, visit, email or call 704-572-3960. The entry fee is $25. Because of generous donations, 100 children will receive free scholarships to enter the race.

Rogers said everyone has something to offer to help others, whether you can help with the University Connect project (which includes the Governor’s Village Toolbox) or the Governor’s Village 5K.