We at CSI Companies believe everyone has potential. In fact, it’s our business: to look for the potential in every candidate we hire. We also believe in empowering children to do more and be more, no matter the circumstances of where or how they grow up.

That’s why our foundation, CSI Gives Back, makes supporting community schools a priority. Our annual galas support children on the First Coast, and our inaugural event in 2019 raised over $20,000 to purchase much-needed uniforms for students. Later that year, we provided backpacks and close to 3,000 school supplies to Sadie T. Tillis Elementary School students and teachers.

Our 2020 Gala was canceled because of the pandemic, but the money we had already raised went to a variety of nonprofits on the First Coast, including Hunger Fight, Duval County Public Schools Clothing Closet, Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, Dreams Come True, Sanctuary on 8th, High School 9:12, and the Sulzbacher Center.

Our 2021 Gala was held at Epping Forest Yacht Club on June 25th. Our 160 attendees followed CDC health guidelines while enjoying the “Evening in Rio” themed décor and entertainment. The event raised over $21,400 for clothing, school supplies, and uniforms for First Coast students.

Our partnership with Sadie T. Tillis Elementary is a great example of how we believe in giving back. School social workers like Susan Merrett help us figure out where funding will do the most good. She’s been a social worker for over 30 years and was Duval County Public Schools’ Social Worker of the Year in 2020. She says her job is “to empower parents and provide support to students without judgment.” Merrett tells us that the school system is still trying to evaluate the impact of the 2020 pandemic; many parents lost their jobs due to shutdowns or lost wages while caring for family or becoming ill themselves. Many students didn’t have enough learning support while the schools were shut down, and it may take years for them to regain the learning and skills they lost during that time.

Merrett suggested that CSI again provide backpacks for students at the beginning of the 2021 school year. Sadie T. Tillis principal Helen Dunbar says, “The donations of school supplies and backpacks for ALL our students help alleviate worries of preparedness from our parents and set the tone for academic success. In addition to the school supplies, each student was blessed this year with school uniform shirts to help with building school pride.”

We provided over 500 backpacks for students, who were thrilled to receive them – and even to give them. Susan Merrett says one young student came up to ask for a favor. “I already have a backpack,” she said shyly. “But my sister doesn’t. Could I take one for her?”

Our staff believes that giving back involves more than simply writing a check. We take giving personally. Our Board Secretary and Ambassador of Giving, Deborah Valentine, was on hand for the backpack distribution at Sadie T. Tillis. The students were allowed to choose their own from the display tables during their lunch hours. One fifth-grade boy was overwhelmed with excitement at having a backpack with a purple galaxy design. But by the time his lunch hour came, the galaxy backpacks were all taken.

He was heartbroken. He started crying and declared that he wanted to go home. No amount of coaxing by teachers or CSI staff could console him or persuade him to choose another backpack. Finally, Deborah got down to his level, looked him in the eye, and said, “If you can wait until tomorrow, I’ll go out and find a galaxy backpack for you. Can you wait for me?”

The look on his face spoke volumes: it said clearly that plenty of adults in his life had made promises they never kept. But he was willing to take a chance on Deborah, who promised herself she’d hit every Walmart between Jacksonville and Daytona to find that backpack. She delivered it the next day.

Giving back is personal, and it changes lives.

Becky Lowry, CSI Gives Back’s executive director, says, “We are not put on this earth for ourselves, instead to lend a hand to another. Giving back is very personal and if we can change just one life, one family, or one school, then we hope this will encourage others to do the same.”

Our 2022 Gala is scheduled for April 30th at Marco Hanger located at Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX.) Fly back in time with us to the 1950s as we enjoy an evening admiring the most glamorous vessels in aviation, with music inspired by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack crew. Great food and entertainment – and the chance to help change lives, one Galaxy Kids backpack at a time. We’d love to see you there. To purchase tickets, and for more information on CSI Gives Back and the 3rd Annual Gala, please visit our website: CSIGivesBack.org

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