How 1,500 Volunteers Transformed a Middle School in a Weekend

by Tonie Hansen

Fifty-two new tables and benches. Six acres of sparkling green playing fields. Seemingly acres of freshly painted walls inside and out. It’s amazing what 1,500 people can do in two days.

NVIDIA invited friends, family and community members to remake Ocala Middle School, rebuilding everything from the teacher’s lounge to the school’s softball fields.

The volunteers logged more than 7,500 combined hours Friday and Saturday at the east San Jose school, the focus of NVIDIA’s seventh annual Project Inspire community service event.

Volunteers remaking Ocala Middle School's playing fields.
Remaking Ocala Middle School’s playing fields.

The parents, teachers and staff at Ocala, a public school in a low-income neighborhood, are working to overcome serious challenges, right in the middle of Silicon Valley, one of the most prosperous regions in the world.

Nearly two-thirds of Ocala’s students are struggling in math, half are struggling with literacy, and more than half are English language learners.

And, students, even at this young age, are facing negative behavioral influences – including gangs – around the school’s neighborhood.

Despite this, Alum Rock Elementary School District Superintendent Stephen Fiss speaks of readying 100% of the school’s students to tackle a college preparatory curriculum in high school.

All of this made Ocala a perfect fit for Project Inspire.

Hard work for a good cause is a holiday tradition at NVIDIA, with the two-day work party the high-point of an innovative 11-month-long planning process.

The employee-led NVIDIA Foundation selects a project to tackle every year, guided by surveys that show health and education are areas where employees most want to make a difference.

Volunteers gather for day one of Project Inspire.
Volunteers gather for day one of Project Inspire.

This year, our investment of $500,000 in labor and materials at Ocala unlocked another $1 million in support from government and nonprofit agencies for additional improvements at the school. The funds will also be used to implement after-school and related community programs to address the academic, social and behavior challenges faced by the students.

Project Inspire has also become a chance to get to know the neighbors, with hundreds of community members picking up hammers and shovels to join our annual effort.

More than a good cause, the event is something of a family reunion, with employees bringing their spouses, partners, parents and children.

Nearly 100 volunteers from City Year, a national youth-leadership organization that has been assisting us with Project Inspire since 2009, helped lead the effort.

Volunteers gave the school a fresh coat of paint, inspirational murals, an expanded teaching garden, an updated teacher’s lounge and revamped sports facilities – including new infields, outfields, bleachers and more for the school’s four softball fields.

Click here for highlighted scenes from the event; a full album is available here.