Friday, December 31, 2010

Jimmie and Chandra Johnson helping to build children's futures

Jimmie Johnson stands with elementary students in front of the new smart board at
Collinswood Language Academy in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 16.
(Photo from Jimmie Johnson's official Facebook page)
One of the great things about NASCAR is the generosity of its drivers. Many are involved in community service and have various causes they support. Some give back through their own foundations or join with other organizations to aid a variety of worthwhile endeavors close to their hearts.

The top 3 Sprint Cup title contenders of 2010 are fine examples of the generosity present in NASCAR. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, runner-up Denny Hamlin and regular season points leader Kevin Harvick personified the Christmas spirit by making a difference recently in their hometowns, adopted hometowns and in the lives of their fans. All three are winners on and off the track.

This week, we’ve looked at how each gave back during the holiday season. Today we wrap it up with Johnson and his wife Chandra, who remember their roots by aiding the development and education of hundreds of children.

The Johnsons: Connecting with the kids

Jimmie and Chandra Johnson became parents this year with the birth of their daughter Genevieve Marie. But helping children has been an important cause for the Johnsons and at the core of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation’s mission.

“I have always had a soft spot for kids and I love to connect with them,” says the five-time consecutive Sprint Cup champion.

For two years now, the couple has made an impact on the lives of hundreds of children through their work with the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and Lowes’ Toolbox for Education Champion Grants.

Thanks to the Johnsons, Christmas came early for 13 schools in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina. On Dec. 16, Jimmie Johnson announced more than $650,000 in education grants would be awarded to public schools in his and Chandra’s hometowns as well as Charlotte, N.C., where the couple reside.

Johnson made the announcement among cheering students at Collinswood Language Academy in Charlotte, N.C., one of three Charlotte-area schools to benefit from the program. Grants were also awarded to seven schools near El Cajon, Calif., where Johnson is from, and three in Muskogee, Okla., where Chandra grew up.

This is the second year of the education grant program, made possible through a partnership between the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and Johnson’s sponsor Lowes. The $688,087 in grants will be used to fund a variety of projects, including science and technology updates, athletic facilities, performing arts programs, literacy initiatives and school improvements.

In the two years the program has been in existence, more than $1.5 million has been awarded to 35 schools in the three states. And awareness is growing. In 2010 alone the grant program received more than 100 applications.

“Our grants picked up considerably this year from just people being aware of the situation and us passing out these grants in each area,” Johnson said. “I think we had like $6 million in grants that were sent to us, and there is no way we could fund that but you sit there and with that you could and that’s just in the three areas where we were taking grants. So it shows the need and how strained the educational system is and we are just happy that we can help make a difference.”

The program’s impact can already be seen at Collinswood. In 2009 the school purchased a new smart board with its grant. This year the elementary school was awarded $45,947 to build a new playground and basketball court.

"In this difficult economic time, it is so rewarding to know that our local heroes are taking an active interest in education and providing much needed financial support,” said Nicolette Grant, Collinswood principal. “This gift will have a positive impact on the social and physical development of our students for years to come.”

Johnson, who missed testing on Daytona’s new surface while he attended the grant ceremony, said being at Collinswood was much more fun.

“I am a kid at heart so to see the kids and know the impact that it is going to make on their lives, and to meet these kids, it’s one thing to raise the money, and have award ceremonies and pass stuff out, but to see the kids interact with them, that’s the best part of fundraising.”

Jimmie and Chandra Johnson’s contributions will be repaid through the advancement of education for hundreds in their hometowns and adopted residence. Through their partnership with Lowes, they are not only helping to build playgrounds and other projects, but also helping to build children’s futures.

To find out more about the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, visit the organization’s website at http://www.jimmiejohnsonfoundation.org/. To see more photos from the grant ceremony at Collinswood, visit Jimmie Johnson’s official Facebook page.

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