Blaze-ing a Trail…

How Schoolvite has revolutionized supporting kids and classrooms 
- October 22, 2020 -

WORDS: Bre Jones Mulock

Frank DiGiovanni and his daughter joined a long line meandering out the door of Blaze Pizza back in 2017 for a fundraiser benefiting Willis Elementary. Hungry parents and kids halted the mid-week tornado of soccer matches, ballet classes, and math homework to pool together and raise money for their school. While hot pizzas bubbled in ovens and dutiful parents continued to arrive in droves, DiGiovanni – an entrepreneur with a finance background and energy that could outpace an Olympic sprinter – hatched an idea.

“I stood there and thought, what if school spirit night was every night, and what if I could donate on my own terms?” said DiGiovanni, donning sneakers and a baseball cap and eagerly flipping open his laptop to reveal his creation. However, he never dreamed of providing a way to donate aside from crowded; shoulder-to-shoulder spirit nights would prove essential in our post-pandemic world of social distancing.

Two years after the Blaze Pizza night, DiGiovanni launched Schoolvite, a website he describes as a “non-stop, passive donation-generation-machine.” Schools sign up to garner income for their classrooms through local vendors agreeing to give a percentage of sales booked through back to the designated schools. In an era of swelling school budgets trying to outpace the critical need for hand sanitizers, facemasks, plexiglass desk shields, and a plethora of PPE, DiGiovanni says paving avenues to donate back to our schools is more important than ever.

“Before I saw Schoolvite as an idea to help out schools,” said DiGiovanni. “Now, schools desperately need our help with all the added costs of keeping kids safe.”

Before the pandemic swooped across the country, more than 200 local vendors spanning from south Venice to Parrish had signed up to donate back 7.5 percent from each sale to the school, which unlike specific spirit nights, can occur any day at any time. The focus zeroed in on vendors who pooled together for kids’ birthday parties. When COVID-19 forced parties into the virtual realm, DiGiovanni pivoted on a dime and launched an additional way to donate: Auto sales.

Through Schoolvite, car dealerships can donate a flat rate of $200 back for every car purchased in a simple two-step process. Buyers just mention their Schoolvite voucher during the closing of their new or used vehicle with any of the approved dealerships, and the dealer will donate $200 to a classroom or school of the buyer’s choice. 

According to research firm J.D. Power, in an age where travelers are swapping trans-Atlantic flights for domestic road trips, used car sales in June rose 17 percent above pre-pandemic forecasts. DiGiovanni is hoping to tap into America falling back in love with the automobile, and he already has 10 dealerships across Manatee and Sarasota counties signed up to participate.

“When Frank approached me, I immediately thought contributing like this to our community was a no-brainer,” said Kris Cox with Cox Chevrolet of Bradenton. “Donating to schools is investing in our kids and our future. We were happy to be a part of Schoolvite.”

More than 60 schools spanning Manatee and Sarasota counties have signed up to etch out wish lists, set fundraising goals, and even select features that allow parents to funnel money toward a specific classroom or need such as humidifiers or a private school scholarship. In addition, participants such as grandparents or retirees who have no tie to a specific school have the option to steer money toward education foundations or a Title I school in need of extra support. Currently, both Manatee and Sarasota County Education Foundations participate with Schoolvite, and the Hillsborough County Education Foundation is set to come on board as well.

“The goal has been to link local businesses to families wanting to support their schools,” said DiGiovanni, who predicts schools that embrace this platform have the potential to earn up to $10,000 annually. “This is especially important now with the added cost needed with safety measures in the schools. Donating to the Education Foundations supports the Education COVID-19 Relief Funds.”

The robust and enthusiastic reaction has rolled out from area schools eager to buy-in and test out Schoovite’s potential. The Manatee County School District has awarded approval for every school to participate. While Sarasota County shied away from a swooping district-wide approval, it has encouraged individual school principals to sign up if they could benefit.

Continuous giving – instead of a one-stop spirit night – shines as a reason Manatee County has supported Schoolvite, according to Deborah Perry-Gambino, community engagement specialist for Manatee County Schools. She emphasizes schools can receive resources they otherwise would not be able to afford through this website, which is especially dire currently. 

In an informational flyer spreading awareness about the auto dealership program, Perry-Gambino emphasized, “The School District of Manatee County and the Manatee Education Foundation have partnered with local business partner Schoolvite to provide the community with an indirect option to donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.”

An on-going fundraising potential as well as other perks for teachers and parents, has inspired Maria Vera Moralez, home school liaison and business partner coordinator for Manatee Elementary, to embrace Schoolvite. 

“We can also book hotels at a discount through the Amazon Smile on Schoolvite, and I think the teachers are really going to love this,” Moralez said. “So far, the site is user friendly, and we plan on letting parents and teachers know about this through Facebook and flyers.”

A parade of colorful local logos, ranging from restaurants to bounce house rental companies, stream across Schoolvite’s website where parents can tap into another feature of donation once the pandemic and social distancing restrictions pass: Party planning.  

Catering to parents planning birthday parties or special events, the website boasts a one-stop-shop where parents can choose from vendors offering packages that include destinations, food, activities, and décor. When booking through the website, businesses will donate back to the school. 

“This feature was ready before the pandemic, and then COVID-19 hit, and we thought ‘Oh my God, what did we do?'” said DiGiovanni. “Who is going to throw a party now? That’s still a no-no. But this is not all for not. This aspect is just on hold and will be ready when the community is ready.”

According to Lisa Terry, marketing director for Chick-fil-A Creekwood, the relationship that blooms between local businesses and schools through the site shines as a positive win-win. With a limited number of school days and opportunities to host spirit nights during the year and added social distancing measures, Terry sees Schoolvite as a unique platform to reach a broader range of schools.

“We are always looking for ways to grow our catering business and reach out into our community to give back to our local schools,” Terry said. “Spirit Nights are great, but that’s one school at a time.”

While businesses and schools are eager to forge relationships, DiGiovanni hopes parents will embrace Schoolvite enthusiastically, too.

“Our biggest obstacle we see is getting parents to use the site,” said DiGiovanni, who has built the site through organic, grassroots efforts as a one-man show canvassing the counties and convincing schools and businesses to tap into his idea. “The schools love it. It’s getting parents to use it. We want the site to be a functional resource for parents – one they would use even if money wasn’t going back to their school.” 

On the same day DiGiovanni lined up at Blaze Pizza, he bumped into a parent inquiring if he saw the birthday party invitation she sent on Facebook for his daughter. Bewildered, DiGiovanni shook his head no, relaying the invite must have been overlooked.

“This is where chocolate meets peanut butter or a Twix,” DiGiovanni said, smiling through his eyes. “We created a way to send out custom invites through the site, which reaches classmates.”

Paper invites stuffed into school backpacks may never make the journey home. However, sometimes this proves as the only way to try and reach school friends when parents have no contact information. As long as parents choose to opt-in, they can see an electronic list of classmates and invite those kids through Schoolvite.

“Sending invites to school with your kid is sometimes a bridge too far,” said DiGiovanni. “On the site, without revealing emails, parents have access to sending an invite to each classmate.”

Like a painter speedily pulling together a masterpiece, DiGiovanni clicked his way through the site, creating a mock birthday party to illustrate the ease of Schoolvite. Through categories and dropdown menus, he chose a destination, food choice, and cake from various vendors faster than ice cream melting in August.

“Now you want a face painter?” he asked rhetorically. “Bam! You got it. Just add it to your party activities.”

With the infrastructure set in place, DiGiovanni is confident once kids are filling their weekend calendars with birthday parties again, Schoolvite with shine as an excellent resource for planning parties and giving back to schools.

With his daughter’s birthday party set to kick off in 30 minutes one year, DiGiovanni remembers his wife’s phone ringing with fellow parents tearing through Target and asking for last-minute gift ideas. With Schoolvite, kids can set up wish lists registry style to detour away from duplicate gifts or presents they don’t need or want. Gifts purchased through Amazon Smile on the site also create an opportunity to give back. Even with virtual parties exploding during the pandemic, parents can currently tap into wish lists.

Almost breathless from rattling off the long list of ways Schoolvite can give back, DiGiovanni paused for a minute and slowly closed his laptop. The memory of Blaze Pizza flooded back into his mind.

“You know, in the beginning, I just thought this could be a way to link businesses and schools in our community,” said DiGiovanni. “But then I went into the Title 1 schools and then the pandemic hit. Now I realize what a big impact this could have for schools.”

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