Giving with Mas Heart

"Taco Bell has a very strong culture. We believe in 'Mas' - mas flavor, mas value, mas heart - and we are passionate about serving others," says Regina Borda, Managing Director for the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens. "Our goal is to do more, give more, live more, and we work hard to try to help others."

It was this passion that led the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens to turn what was initially a grant of $15,000 to create a Bright Space® at the Project Hope Alliance into a community-changing extreme makeover project for a school for homeless children in Orange County, CA.

"Last year, the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens invited us to apply for a grant to create a Bright Space in Orange County," explains Kim Thorstenson-Root, Bright Horizons Director of the Children's Center at Taco Bell.  "We chose the Project Hope Alliance, a program that was founded to ensure that transient homeless children living in motels across Orange County could regularly attend school at Skyview Elementary School."

Showing that Others Care

Bright Spaces are warm, enriching playrooms in community agencies that give children and families in crisis a special place to learn, have fun, and heal. They are created through innovative partnerships with Bright Horizons clients, local shelters and community organizations, and the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children.

The Project Hope Alliance caught Kim's heart when she watched this video from Mark, a child who attends the school there and lives in a hotel with his family. She confirmed it as the location to create the Bright Space after her in-person visit. "The day I first walked into the school was life changing for me," says Kim. "

The play therapy room grabbed my eye with broken toys, dolls without clothes, dirty blankets... I felt absolutely overwhelmed, yet inspired, looking at all the challenges the school was facing.

"I thought, these children here need to have access to not just mediocre or 'it'll do services and education,' they need an environment where they want to be because others care, and reap the best of what can be provided to them."

Building Hope

Working within their grant budget of $15,000, Kim and her team moved forward on creating the Bright Space to provide a space for children and families to utilize while waiting for personal appointments at the school.

Then Lynn Hemans - Taco Bell center parent, Director for Marketing at Taco Bell, Treasurer for the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, and a Board member of Project Hope Alliance - walked into Kim's office.

Lynn wanted to make a difference for the whole school, not just one room. Her challenging question to Kim was, "What will it take for you to do the whole school? How much money do you need? I'll get it!"

Lynn persuaded the Project Hope Alliance Board to commit money to the renovation of the school, and then got Taco Bell senior executives to give personally to the renovation of the kitchen area in order to provide proper food service. That was just the beginning of so many individuals coming together to shine just a little bit of hope for the children of Skyview Elementary. Once Lynn got things rolling, this small project turned into a big community fundraising event - and more than $300,000 was raised!

Extreme Makeover

"This had become truly an extreme makeover. And we couldn't wait to see the impact it would have on the school for the students!" said Regina. "I watched as Taco Bell employees and Bright Horizons employees worked side by side to transform this space. Every department from Taco Bell helped. The volunteers spent hours in the space, making sure every detail was just right so that the kids and teachers would have a great place for learning."

It was great to see the immediate impact on the children, says Kim. "Teachers said that they were immediately seeing an impact on attention, focus, and academic performance. They felt the students now were willing to make more effort because someone cared about them and about providing a good place for them."

"Taco Bell was so pleased to be able to partner with the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children to support a project that made such an impact on children, families, and our own employees," says Regina.

If you are inspired, as Taco Bell and so many of our clients have been, to brighten the lives of children in your communities, please reach out to the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children at bhfoundation@brighthorizons.com.  There are too many Mark's in too many communities across our country - they need us to provide them with a brighter future.