Hill’s Pet Nutrition ‘amazing’ as Vaile partner


You won’t be hearing employees at Hill’s Pet Nutrition bragging about it.

Or their local or corporate executives.

But, they play a major role as volunteers, mentors and more for young students — and the whole school community — at Vaile Elementary School in Richmond.

“They are amazing,” says third-grade teacher Kendra Brown, who helps coordinate the Hill’s-student activities and interactions. “It’s like one of those little secrets. They don’t talk about it, but they are there for whatever we need.”

And Vaile often needs a lot. More than 80 percent of its students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch programs. That ranks at the top in Richmond Community Schools.

Hill’s employees mentor kids as study buddies. They raise money for field trips to Cope Environmental Center. They run games at school carnivals and serve as judges at science fairs.

One employee even designed an attendance program after researching student success.

Hill's Employees Read at Vaile

Hill’s employees read to Vaile students.

They lend helping hands at after-school activities. They chaperone a “good-behavior” outing to a Richmond High School basketball game – providing the bus, drinks, and popcorn. Employees held a silent auction to raise money for that collaborative event.

Brown said the number of volunteers can range to above a dozen for any given need.

The help doesn’t stop there, says Tammy Newton, the Communities in Schools coordinator at Vaile. Employees and the Hill’s corporate headquarters have donated money to CIS for different programs, for families that have needs (such as cleaning supplies, laundry soap), for incentives for our homework program.”

And a lot more.

“They give me goodie bags with hygiene products, with necessities like body wash and deodorant,” Newton says. “At the end of the school year, they do a pizza picnic party.”

And there’s more: Hill’s and its employees promoted the dentist van that visited last year and they gave out toothbrushes.

They have provided books for the school library, basketball goals and artwork that are on display at school. They have donated T-shirts for the whole school (see photo above), plus sweatshirts, gloves and hats.

The relationship had a simple beginning in 2005, says former principal Tammy Rhoades. She and friend Jackie Vanderpool, an employee at Hill’s, were buying flowers on a Saturday morning and talked about ways to help Vaile. “The need for a community sponsor existed at Vaile and Hill’s was more than willing to help,” Rhoades says.

Hills Courtyard Work

Volunteers from Hill’s work in Vaile’s courtyard.

That help soon manifested itself with their first project together — the Vaile Courtyard. It was installed in 2005 with the support of the school district and some Eagle Scouts who brought in soil, says Rhoades, who now serves at Westview Elementary.

Plantings range from hostas to hydrangeas, pansies to plum trees, clematis to columbine and salvia to Russian sage.

The courtyard has been featured on the garden tour sponsored by the Richmond Art Museum.

Several Hill’s employees worked on the morning of April 22nd,”freshening up our courtyard and reading to classes in honor of Earth Day,” Brown said.

Hill’s employee and corporate donations have now reached about $35,000, Newton reports. “We have many needy students who are benefiting from the time, energy and commitment of Hills’ employees,” she says. “(They) make a difference in the lives of Vaile children and a positive impact on the Richmond community. Although any one of these contributions would be notable, the impact of the total effort is truly impressive.”

The impact includes a kiln that was donated to help creative arts projects.

Hill's employees volunteering at Vaile Elementary.

Hill’s employees who have volunteered at Vaile include (from left): Kenny Evans, Shelly Culbertson, Sheri Lakes, Curtis Healton and Angelique Jno Baptiste.

The school and Hill’s employees worked on a community fundraising project together to help the Richmond Police Department buy a K9 dog named Leo.

Vaile principal Rae Ann Schuerman says all of the staff and students are grateful for the help from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and its employees. “It is absolutely amazing having such a great partnership,” she says. “They are willing to work with us and collaborate on issues we see in our building and many of their staff members are study buddies to our Vaile students.”

The buddies include Vanderpool, Sheri Lakes, Billy Vance, Shelly Culbertson, Chris Campbell, Kim Campbell and Kenny Evans.

“Vaile is a better place because of their continued support,” Schuerman says.

Rhoades certainly agrees: “I can’t possibly tell you how much we appreciate everything they have done for the students at Vaile and the community in general,” she says. “What a fabulous group of people.”

The community help promises to keep going and even growing.

Field trip sponsored in part by Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Field trip sponsored in part by Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition — which is celebrating its 25th anniversary at 2235 Union Pike in Richmond — is investing $556,000 to construct a training facility for current employees and new employees that will be added.

The company was awarded a $10,000 Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) grant for the project from the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County.

The training facility will feature hands-on stations that are designed to be used in conjunction with online, virtual training. The company will further partner with the education community by making the new facility available for student training.