FARGO - Rosy-cheeked kindergarteners came in twos and threes to Karen Derby’s classroom Friday morning, Oct. 11, shucking off winter coats, hats and mittens as they wandered in the door.

“Uh, oh. Is everyone ready for Halloween?” one girl chirps to no one in particular. “Where’s your costumes?”

Derby, in her 27th year of teaching at McKinley Elementary School, greets each child with a smile, helps a couple out of their coats, and points them to the storage nook.

Fridays are happy days for McKinley’s kindergarteners, because that’s when their buddies from Heat Transfer Warehouse show up to read to each and every single one of them.

“It’s amazing. They give their hearts with everything they do,” Derby said of the Heat Transfer readers. “The kids love that 1-on-1 time with adults.”

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“They’re the best. The kids absolutely love it every Friday,” added McKinley’s other kindergarten teacher, Leigha Janssen.

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Just before the morning announcements began, Ashley Hansen and Brianna Chose, two of the four Heat Transfer volunteers there that day, sat or stood by their chairs in the hall outside Derby’s room. Beside each of them were two small kindergarten-sized plastic seats, with a small plastic bin of well-thumbed books on the floor in between.

“I think it’s a lot of fun. We all rotate,” Hansen said. “It’s fun to be able to connect.”

Chose said she enjoyed reading as a child.

“The kids get excited about it, too,” Chose said. “It’s just kind of fun to see them (progress) from the beginning of the school year to the end.”

Once the announcements end, their 40-minute read-a-thon began, with each of the four students sent their way grabbing a book for the adult volunteers to read them stories of bouncing and rolling pumpkins, and other things Halloween.

Heat Transfer Warehouse is part of the Fargo School District’s Adopt-A-School program, which is coordinated by the Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation.

They’re among the most generous of the businesses and organizations in the program.

“They do a lot for those kids,” said Becky Bakke, executive director of the foundation.

A school announcements sign outside Fargo's McKinley Elementary thanks Heat Transfer Warehouse on Friday, Oct. 11, for its involvement with the school and its students. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)
A school announcements sign outside Fargo's McKinley Elementary thanks Heat Transfer Warehouse on Friday, Oct. 11, for its involvement with the school and its students. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

Bakke said the volunteers get as much out of the program as the children.

“We get them connected. (The businesses or organizations and school officials) decide what the school needs and what the business can offer,” Bakke said. “We’re really looking for their time and talent, as much as their treasure, I just think it makes a big impact on the kids.”

Cheryl Janssen, McKinley’s principal, says the work of the Heat Transfer employees has touched the whole of the McKinley community. She expects it will have a lasting impact.

During four of the last five years that Heat Transfer has been part of the program, the firm has purchased school-logo sweatshirts for every child at McKinley. This year the children will get backpacks, too. Last year the company gave the students and teachers lined jackets, Janssen said.

Heat Transfer has also purchased lice kits, gym equipment and books, and employees regularly volunteer at school carnivals and other functions.

“One of the things they want is to be sure our kids are dressed for the weather and they have their basic needs met,” Janssen said.

Kirk Anton and Tricia Huson, the co-owners of Heat Transfer Warehouse, said they want contributing to the community to be part of the company’s culture.

“It think it’s kind of the company DNA,” Anton said.

Heat Transfer celebrates its 10th anniversary in March 2020. It also has locations in Henderson, Nev. (near Las Vegas), Jacksonville, Fla., and Erlanger, Ky. (near Cincinnati, Ohio). Each of those locations can choose the needs they feel that they can best address in their community.

“We leave it up to each branch to kind of say, where do you want to put your effort? Where do you feel your true passion is?,” Anton said. “Obviously we have a true passion for McKinley. That’s why we keep doing what we do.”

The company is also a booster of Fargo North High School, he said.

“It’s our DNA, (it’s) how we are. We always want to give back and be able to support those around us,” Anton said.

Huson said it has been rewarding to be a part of the McKinley school community.

Being personally involved was key for her and the company’s employees. That’s why participation in the reading program has been so popular, she said.

“For me, it’s been just wonderful seeing the reaction from the kids and the families when we’ve been there to volunteer for things. Reading to the kids has been amazing. You start at the beginning of the year reading to the kindergarteners. … And by the end of the school year, you’re seeing the progress and they’re reading the books to you,” Huson said.

Huson said the children don’t forget the volunteers, and the parents appreciate the efforts of everyone from Heat Transfer.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling that we can be there for kids and families,” Huson said.

The example made by Heat Transfer Warehouse - in gifts of both time and money - is a good example of service to the community, Janssen said. And it lets her and McKinley’s teachers and staff focus on education.

“The idea of paying it forward that Heat Transfer has done in this process has really rubbed off on our staff and our students,” she said.

“They make me smile,” Janssen said. “I’m so thankful, so thankful for what they do and what they have done for us.”

Fargo schools draw on extensive Adopt-A-School partnerships

Fargo Public Schools has an extensive Adopt-A-School program coordinated by the Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation.

The program, in place in Fargo since 2002, matches individual schools with area businesses, service clubs, colleges, universities and other organizations. The partnerships bring community members and employees of area businesses into schools to help with reading programs, tutoring, career awareness, special events, mentoring, extra-curricular clubs, community service projects, field trips and other activities.

The schools involved and their partners are:

Jefferson Elementary - City of Fargo

Kennedy Elementary - Costco and Davies National Honor Society

Clara Barton/Hawthorne Elementary - Dawson Insurance and Forum Communications

Ed Clapp Elementary - Essentia Health

Centennial Elementary - Eventide Senior Living Community

Lewis & Clark Elementary - Fargo South National Honor Society and Perficient

Madison Elementary - South Point Kiwanis Club

Longfellow Elementary - Fargo Veterans Affairs Health Care System

McKinley Elementary - Heat Transfer Warehouse

Washington Elementary - John Deere Electronic Solutions

Madison Elementary - Magnum Ltd.

Bennett Elementary - Microsoft Business Solutions

Lincoln Elementary - Noridian Healthcare Solutions

Horace Mann/Roosevelt Elementary - Sanford Health

Eagles Elementary - Touchmark at Harwood Groves

Even Start Classrooms - Woodrow Wilson High School

Carl Ben Eielson Middle School - Fargo West Rotary Club and North Dakota State University Planning for College Success

Ben Franklin Middle School - NDSU Lions Club

Discovery Middle School - Courts Plus Community Fitness

Prairie St. John’s - Sammons Financial Group

The West Fargo School District put out a request for Adopt-A-School partners this summer. Five elementary schools are interested in a partnership - Brooks Harbor, L.E. Berger, South, Deer Creek and Horace - but there haven’t been any volunteers yet, district spokeswoman Heather Leas said Thursday, Oct. 10

The schools are profiled at www.west-fargo.k12.nd.us/Page/6915.

Neither the Moorhead or Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton public school districts have Adopt-A-School programs, officials said.