While Jimmie Johnson is a champion, six-times in fact, as well as the race winner from this past weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, he and his wife Chandra are also champions off the track with their foundation’s funding of local school initiatives.
This week’s NASCAR BTS goes behind the scenes of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Champion’s Grant Program in particular.
“The Jimmie Johnson Foundation was started in 2006 with quite a broad mission of helping families, children and communities in need across the United States,” Amanda Prothero, Executive Director of the Foundation, said. “As the years passed, the Johnsons kept hearing about the importance of education so the focus of the Foundation then became supporting K – 12 public education and schools.”
“That’s how, in partnership with Lowes, the Champion’s Grant Program developed so that we could directly support schools in three areas, which are El Cajon, California (Jimmie Johnson’s hometown); Muskogee, Oklahoma (Chandra Johnson’s hometown); and Charlotte, North Carolina where the Johnsons currently live.”
Just recently, the Foundation announced their latest round of Champions Grants totally $550,000. Six schools in North Carolina, two in Oklahoma and two in California received the funding, with grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 based on the grant request and need.
“This year’s applications were very impressive,” Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet said. “We are honored to be able to fund so many innovative and exciting projects in our hometowns and here in the Charlotte area. We can’t wait to see them through to completion.”
“The Champions Grant program impacts thousands of students each year,” Chandra Johnson said. “Hearing from some of them about what a difference the grants will make in their education was really special. It is a pleasure to continue to do our part to support public education.”
One of the ways that the Champions Grant Program is unique is that it makes grants based on critical needs, not on the ‘nice to have’ programs.
“We’re looking for the ‘have to have’ programs in schools,” Jenny Mayer, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Manager said. “As you can imagine, we receive a lot of technology requests, playgrounds and outdoor learning requests.”
“One of my favorite grant stories was about a school in Oklahoma. They had all of the technology that they needed but were unable to use it because there were no blinds on the windows. And the kids just couldn’t see the whiteboards because there was always that glare.”
“So, the application they submitted was for window blinds. That’s not one of those ‘cool’ grant projects, but it was a critical need. The Foundation funded the project and it was amazing to hear the stories of the difference in classroom learning and student achievement all because of window blinds.”
“I tell the schools this story to show that we’re not looking for this elaborate proposal. We want the schools to tell us what they need to educate their students and we will consider it.”
Another unique aspect to the Champions Grant Program is just how rigorous the process is and how thoroughly each submission is reviewed.
“We actually have a committee of folks involved in the review process,” Prothero said. “We have a representative from Lowes on that committee. We have some community members that have a heavy interest and have worked in education. We have a couple of people from Jimmie Johnson Racing.”
“It goes through an initial review where the committee members score each application. That happens twice. Then we have a face to face committee meeting where we hash out who we’ll fight for and who we feel passionate about. The final piece of the puzzle is that we do site visits and we have people on the ground in the three areas that do the visits.”
“And after all that, we present the final slate to the Foundation Board of Directors, which includes Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. They will ask questions and dive deep into the recommendations. That’s the final piece of the puzzle when we present the final slate of the grantees.”
Prothero can personally attest to how thorough the grant review process is having been through it herself prior to beginning her work with the Foundation.
“Before I joined the Foundation, I worked for a public charter school,” Prothero said. “We actually applied to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation for a grant so I got to see it from the other side before joining the Foundation.”
“I always loved the Foundation process because it was so thorough and so involved and informative. Whenever you needed help, it was always available. And even though it is quite a long process, it actually was one of my favorites because I knew the Foundation took it very seriously as to where they wanted to invest their money.”
The final way that the Foundation stands out is how involved Jimmie and Chandra Johnson are, both with grantmaking, as well as fundraising for the Foundation.
“Jimmie and Channie are super involved,” Prothero said. “We communicate with them on a regular basis. They are the decision makers and have final say on everything we do as a Foundation.”
“They feel very passionately about public education and what they can do to help. They feel strongly about having the money go directly to the schools so that they can see the projects and the results.”
“And they love nothing more than to see and speak to the students themselves to see how the funding will impact them and their education.”
While the grants have been made for this funding cycle, the next opportunity for schools to apply to the Jimmie Johnson Champions Grant Program will be after the first of the New Year.
“We definitely have to remind the schools about the program because it is mainly teachers and administrators within the schools that are applying,” Mayer said. “And that is just one other thing they do in addition to their classroom duties.”
“It’s commendable that they do it and we’re proud to provide the opportunities. We actually offer information calls and we encourage any school interested in participating to jump on the monthly calls while the process is open. We give them details and helpful hints, as well as being able to answer one-on-one questions.”
For anyone interested in applying for the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Champion Grants Program next year or to participate in the many fundraising and donation opportunities, visit https://jimmiejohnsonfoundation.org/ or follow them on Twitter @TeamJJF.