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‘Thrilled to help’: AbbVie and Heart of America build STEM lab at Martin Elementary in Santa Ana

Martin Elementary School students in the newly renovated, large-scale STEM lab on the school's campus.
Martin Elementary School students Jeremy Jaimes, from left, Kaylee Johnson and Noah Molina play with a Lego in the newly renovated, large-scale STEM lab on the school’s campus on Tuesday, June 28.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

On June 27 and 28, more than 250 employees from biopharmaceutical company AbbVie worked through the summer heat to improve the campus of Glenn L. Martin Elementary School in Santa Ana with a large-scale STEM lab for the school’s population of nearly 510 students. The project was made possible by a partnership between AbbVie and the Heart of America Foundation, an organization that works to provide quality resources and transform spaces in under-resourced schools.

“We know not every school across the country is the same,” said Jill Hardy Heath, president and CEO of the Heart of America. “Our charge is to work with amazing partners like AbbVie to make a difference.”

This week is AbbVie’s annual Week of Possibilities, an initiative that encourages AbbVie employees throughout the nation to volunteer to give back to local communities.

“Through AbbVie’s Week of Possibilities, we partner in our local communities to identify the greatest need and how we can help. Coming together to build an immersive STEM lab and refurbish other areas within the school is meaningful for our team and, we hope, for the students who will study here,” said Carrie Strom, senior vice president at AbbVie. “STEM education is important to help inspire and grow our next generation of scientists and technical leaders. We’re thrilled to help support the students and teachers at Glenn L. Martin school.”

Students and AbbVie volunteers at the schools new STEM lab.
Martin Elementary School students and employees from AbbVie, who volunteered their time, participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the school’s STEM lab.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

During the two-day project, volunteers deep-cleaned, painted and decorated two rooms to create an improved library space along with the STEM lab. They also assembled technology and prepared STEM-based educational resource kits that included books and supplies for students to take home.

“AbbVie volunteers packed over 400 education packs with age-appropriate books, STEM activities, art supplies and school supplies that go home with the students so they can continue learning,” Heath said.

An additional team of volunteers worked on the rest of the school’s campus, building planter boxes, painting STEM and science-centered murals and cleaning and organizing storage rooms and classrooms.

The work at Martin Elementary, which serves T-K through fifth grade, ended with a ribbon-cutting of the new STEM lab with AbbVie volunteers, teachers and a group of students present.

Employees from AbbVie, who volunteered at Martin Elementary School to develop a STEM lab.
Employees from AbbVie, who volunteered at Martin Elementary School to develop a STEM lab and remodel the Santa Ana school’s library, applaud during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 28.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Heath asked the students.

One replied “nurse” while another said “YouTuber.”

No matter what vocation the students aspire to, they can benefit from the STEM makerspace, which provides open space for students to gather and create. Along with Legos and art supplies the space also boasts a green screen as a background to video recording.

“Every students is different and gravitates toward different things,” Heath said. “While some students may be great using their hands or creating with Legos or more traditional connector toys, others like to create in technology and on screen.”

The AbbVie team co-designed the space with Santa Ana Unified School District and Heart of America Foundation.

“We always co-create, rather than use a template,” said Heath. “We co-create from the colors to what is infused into the classroom.”

AbbVie is now in its seventh year of hosting the Week of Possibilities community initiative, after a two-year pause due to the pandemic. Santa Ana is one of 15 cities nationwide where over 15,000 AbbVie employees will volunteer for Week of Possibilities projects, in collaboration with longstanding nonprofit partners.

 Jill Heath, CEO of Heart of America, high fives Raquel Gutierrez, 9, at Martin Elementary School library.
Jill Heath, the president and CEO of Heart of America, high fives Raquel Gutierrez, 9, at the Martin Elementary School library.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“There are 15 projects happening across country. This is one of them and this is one of the largest outside of North Chicago,” said Heath.

Santa Ana isn’t the only Orange County city to benefit from AbbVie’s weeklong initiative.

Anaheim’s Rio Vista Park is receiving a new kid-designed playground, thanks to a partnership between AbbVie and KABOOM!, a nonprofit organization that helps communities build playgrounds for kids.

From June 28 to 30, 125 AbbVie employees in Anaheim will assemble and install new playground equipment and move engineered wood fiber into the play space site. The volunteers will also install sidewalk games and paintings to enhance the area surrounding the park.

“Playgrounds are an iconic part of childhood,” said KABOOM! Chief Executive Officer Lysa Ratliff. “KABOOM! is proud to continue our long-term partnership with AbbVie and further our work to ensure every kid in every community has access to safe, high-quality places where they can play, learn and unlock their greatest potential.”

Heath said Heart of America Foundation works closely with AbbVie when choosing project sites.

“We do diligence by site visiting schools and we consider everything from need to school population. And leadership is really important,” said Heath, “because if you are going to invest into the school like this, you want it maintained and you want it used and accessible to all the students.”

Martin Elementary hosts a summer program, and the nearly 200 students enrolled will be able to get a head start on utilizing the new spaces.

“They are going to be able to use these spaces during their traditional school year and outside the school year,” Heath said.

It is an advantage for future nurses and future YouTubers alike.

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