AbbVie and volunteers transform schools during magical week

Above, Carman-Buckner Elementary School Principal Robert Silva cuts the ribbon after the completion of a new playground. – AbbVie photo

by Tina Johansson

The possibilities are endless when big corporation AbbVie gets involved.

The business, a global biopharmaceutical company headquartered in North Chicago, held its annual Week of Possibilities this week, making it a boon for needy schools in Lake County and throughout the world.

According to Melissa Walsh, vice president of AbbVie Global Philanthropy and AbbVie Foundation, employees of the company will complete more than 25,000 volunteer hours with service projects in more than 50 countries. The employees work in the communities in which they live.

“A lot of the needs are the same (throughout the world), as we work to help the underserved communities,” said Walsh. “This is our third year and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Local facilities getting upgrades include North Chicago Community High School, Neal Math and Science Academy, North Elementary School, and Green Bay Early Learning Center, each in North Chicago. In Waukegan, AbbVie worked on projects at Carman-Buckner Elementary School.


Several entities are working with AbbVie for the Week of Possibilities, including the Heart of America Foundation, KaBOOM!, and Points of Life.  Naval Base Great Lakes recruits helped on some of the projects.

The event began on Monday, a sweltering day that reached the 90-degree mark. “We had lots of water and Gatorade throughout the day, and popsicles were a big hit,” said Walsh.

The only injury sustained so far was a cut on the finger, she added.

For the first two days volunteers worked at the high school, transforming the existing learning resource center for parents, teachers and students alike to use.  The room now includes areas for small group interactions, college and career preparation, individual and small group tutoring, technology use, and parent and teacher professional development.

“The learning center has really been transformed,” said Walsh. “It is a state-of-the-art center. Before it was dark and dingy, and the paint was peeling. It certainly was not conducive for what it was meant for.”

The basketball team room was renovated, as well as locker rooms and the Hall of Fame room. Volunteers at the high school also painted hallways and classrooms, cleared and cleaned the basement storage area, and revitalized the front gardens. The Family Care Closet was renovated and stocked.

One of the largest endeavor volunteers undertook at the North Chicago High School was the fencing and the sports field inside of it. Dilapidating fencing and the field turf, riddled with divots, were repaired.

“The field was in such bad shape, that they weren’t allowed to use it for four years,” said Walsh, citing the state’s requirements. “The teams weren’t able to have any home games before.”

At Neal Math and Science Academy located next to the high school, volunteers renovated two computer labs and provide new books for the library space.  One of the computer labs now features an innovative Maker’s Space, complete with 3D printer and collaboration area.  Volunteers assembled new furniture, set up technology, prepared and shelved books, and put finishing touches on the new labs.

North Elementary School received a new playground thanks to AbbVie, volunteers and KaBoom! The kid-designed playground, encourages an active lifestyles for the students, and will give them a safe place to play.

Green Bay Early Learning Center received a complete overhaul of the student assessment room, and the parent room to ensure total functionality.  Volunteers assembled furniture, worked to shelve books, and put finishing touches on the rooms.

The playground project at Carman-Buckner Elementary was an “exciting” project for volunteers, who worked hard to give students a fun and safe place to play during recess. They prepared the land, assembled and installed the brand new, colorful equipment, with help from KaBOOM! “It used to be a concrete space with cracks. You wouldn’t let your kids walk over the concrete let alone have recess and play on it,” Walsh said.

Robert Silva, principal of the school, was among the volunteers getting down and dirty with the playground project which was designed by students, parents and staff.

“I was out there with the volunteers digging holes and raking rocks,” said Silva.

Lucky for the volunteers, a forecast calling for severe storms the day of the playground project didn’t take place at all.

“We were very lucky. The rain held off until the playground was completed. After the ribbon cutting. Put safety fencing around the post holes, then it started to break. It was perfect timing,” said Silva.

The second big project at Carman-Buckner, a school of 715 students, was the renovation of the school library. The new, state-of-the-art space is filled with 44 Chrome laptops for students, and a new iMac for the librarian.

A number of obsolete and worn books were tossed out. Many were replaced with new.

Also, the old card system which included cards being hand-stamped and signed at the library, was replaced with a new updated, electronic method. Carman-Buckner is now the first District 60 elementary school to go electronic. The middle schools and high school have been electronic for some time.

With the old system “It was very hard for us to manage our collection (of books),” said Silva. Volunteers labeled all of the books with codes so books can be scanned.

“(Volunteers) even took a hideous metal pole in the middle of the room and made it into a tree,” gushed Silva.

The principal added how delighted he was with the work accomplished.

“I am deeply grateful to them for giving us this opportunity for our students,” he said. “We feel strongly about making the school the center of the community. And it should still be. It’s where the students learn eight hours a day.”

“When students and teachers come in at the beginning of the year they will see a ‘brand new’ school. I want them to be proud when they walk down the hallways. And it starts with the physical environment,” said Silva.

Students enrolled in summer school at A.J. Katzenmaier Elementary School in North Chicago also benefited by “being a scientist for a day” while conducting experiments and making observations alongside AbbVie professionals. They also got to experience the new Science + You Exhibit developed for the Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago.

For the first time ever this year, The Week of Possibilities is helping homeless vets by completely renovating housing for them in North Chicago.

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