by Tonie Hansen

This week we’re opening the application period for schools and community organizations to apply for NVIDIA HQ’s flagship volunteer event, Project Inspire.  Project Inspire is our annual holiday “party with a purpose,” bringing  together more than a thousand employees and community volunteers for one day, to transform a deserving local community resource. In total, Project Inspire delivers about $320,000 in direct benefits and volunteer labor to recipients, annually.

We started Project Inspire back in 2007, and the event has evolved and grown each year since. In fact, its success spurred many of our other US-based and international field offices to launch their own local Project Inspire-type events.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look back at past Project Inspires, getting insights from former recipients to see how participating in this program affected them.

We’ll kick things off with a spotlight on the Project Inspire recipient from 2008, Overfelt High School based in East San Jose, California. Vito Chiala, Overfelt’s principal took a moment to tell us how three years later Project Inspire is still bearing fruit.

“Project Inspire changed the image of our school for staff and students within one weekend,” Chiala says.  Overfelt has a high percentage (64%) of students who are eligible for free and reduced-fee lunch. Many of these students are the first in their families to go on to secondary education. When the Project Inspire team worked with Overfelt, they tackled a number of changes to really transform the school”.

NVIDIA employees worked side-by-side with Overfelt students

One priority was to improve the school grounds to make it feel more vibrant and social – like a college campus. Volunteers and students painted murals, helped with landscaping, constructed a new volleyball court and built lockers. They also repaired the school’s greenhouse, so students could grow and distribute organically grown seedlings to the community.

A mural created by Overfelt students and painted on the day of service in 2008

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes was the creation of a multimedia academy where Overfelt students could get valuable career training in multimedia production. NVIDIA worked with Chiala and with Overfelt’s multimedia teacher to design and implement a dedicated multimedia classroom. NVIDIA also donated 12 computers and collaborated with Adobe Foundation’s Youth Voices program to give students instruction in multimedia software.

Students working at the Overfelt multimedia academy

What started as an after-school program has since grown into a magnet program, serving more than 100 students a year. The academy has grown to include more than 30 state-of-the-art computers and a comprehensive multimedia curriculum.

The multimedia academy was the start of many long-term relationships between the school and local Silicon Valley business leaders as well – not just NVIDIA. Says Chiala, “It showed our school community that corporate Silicon Valley is willing to invest in our schools and that business leaders believe in us.”

That chilly weekend in 2008, hundreds of Overfelt students came out and volunteered alongside NVIDIA employees. Chiala says, “Working side by side, students learned the value of giving back to the community. Maybe more importantly, it helped to make the professional world, and the people in it seem more accessible. Weeks after the event, I would still hear students speaking about that day. And, every once in a while I will even see the NVIDIA Project Inspire shirts on campus!”