Emma Hopson is an Ecosystem Growth Manager at Rheaply. Prior to Rheaply, she was the Program Manager of Strategic Partnerships at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. Here, she details her experience in working with KIPP Chicago to help them avoid unnecessary waste and provide economic value to K-12 schools across the city.
In the summer of 2021, KIPP Chicago (KIPP), a tuition-free public charter school with eight locations across the city, found itself with 525 items of furniture no longer needed. Items included teacher desks, chairs, multi-purpose tables, and student desks and chairs suitable for both primary and secondary students. Although KIPP Chicago no longer needed these items, it wanted to offer them by way of donation to nearby schools and organizations – supporting students and programs while ensuring landfill avoidance. KIPP identified the Rheaply platform as an opportunity to provide visibility into items they wanted to donate while also connecting them with organizations who could put the items to use.
KIPP Chicago’s success
The work with KIPP Chicago further validated Rheaply’s ecosystem advantage for K-12 schools to exchange resources needed by schools, teachers, students, and communities. KIPP team members were trained on how to use The Rheaply Resource Exchange Platform, onboard interested organizations and individuals, and have all items removed and claimed within 30 days.
KIPP Chicago background
KIPP is a network of 270 tuition-free public charter schools with eight locations throughout Chicago. They recently received brand new desks and chairs for two of their schools – KIPP Academy Chicago and KIPP Ascend Primary. While they were excited about the new resources for their classrooms, they were left asking themselves, “What do we do with all of these desks and chairs that are nowhere near their end of life, but need to be removed by the start of the school year?”
While it might have been easier to call a liquidator to recycle the unwanted items, KIPP thought differently. Although they no longer needed the desks, KIPP recognized that other individuals or organizations could put them to good use because of their exceptional condition. KIPP soon reached out to the Ecosystem team at Rheaply, and by mid-July the team had a use case on their hands and a viable opportunity to test their hypothesis:
Outreach and implementation
The Rheaply team oversaw this implementation process in three different steps:
- Onboard and train KIPP team members on the Rheaply Platform
- Tap into (and expand) Rheaply’s ecosystem of nonprofit and community partners
- Collaborate with operational partners to support the facilitation and success of the project
To start, Rheaply’s customer success team provided KIPP with their own instance of Rheaply’s Resource Exchange Platform. Once KIPP’s instance was created, the ecosystem team trained two individuals – Lauren Lowinger and Jasmine Chase – on how to make a post and communicate directly on the platform with interested exchange recipients. Within hours the two educators had created listings and eventually posted 525 items onto their platform available for donation.
The Rheaply team then began to reach out to new and existing community partners in the area to gauge their interest in receiving these items. The team reached out to over 70 local organizations from libraries, churches, schools and nonprofits to reuse centers and furniture banks. The team also tapped existing partners available to help spread the word of the reusable furniture in the community. Amidst the early days of August where many were out of town or merely ‘out of office’ soaking up their final days of summer, interest began rolling in. Much of this interest, however, came from individual teachers looking to furnish their classroom for the upcoming school year.
Community partnerships and participation
By the middle of August roughly one-third of the items were spoken for. One school in particular, Dirksen Elementary, was in need of the items but had no way of transporting the items to their school from KIPP. With school starting in a matter of days, Rheaply and KIPP wanted to fulfill this need for Dirksen, but they needed help. Rheaply tapped community partner MAC Relocations, a Chicago based company in the logistics, relocation, storage, and installation industry.
Amidst a tight deadline, MAC Relocations saw what Rheaply and KIPP were seeing – a rapidly approaching upcoming school year and a school that needed desks for their students. MAC Relocations came onboard in a day’s notice, providing their time and services at a discounted rate to support local schools when they needed it most. As a result, Dirksen Elementary received over 100 desks, outfitting various classrooms throughout their school and furnishing their entire drama classroom.
Another partner that largely supported this project was the Facilities – Warehousing & Logistics Services team within the Chicago Public School System (CPS). After receiving such high demand from individual teachers throughout Chicago, Rheaply knew they needed to meet. Not only to see if they could put these items to use, but to better understand CPS’ process for supporting furniture requests for teachers, schools and classrooms across the district.
Rheaply learned that although this team at CPS is small, they are mighty, and have the responsibility of managing the facilities of all 636 schools across the Chicago Public School System. Thanks to the CPS Facilities team, the remaining items at KIPP were able to be picked up in the planned timeline. Not only did this ensure all remaining items would not end up in the landfill, they are now being recirculated back into the Chicago Public Schools and will be available for their expansive network of teachers, schools, and the communities they serve.
As a result of this partnership, KIPP was able to utilize Rheaplys Resource Exchange Platform and their Ecosystem team to facilitate the successful donation of 525 pieces of furniture, providing local organizations and Chicago schools with over $63,000 in value. In addition to this economic impact and support, the partnership was also able to ensure that 4.1712 tons remained out of the landfill and put back into use.
The following organizations received these donations from KIPP by way of Rheaply’s Platform:
- Carole Robertson Center for Learning
- Richardson Middle School
- Hearst Elementary School
- Sidney Sawyer Elementary School
- Alternative School Network
- Dirksen Elementary School
- Chicago Public School System (636 schools)
Amidst their final days of summer, both Lauren and Jasmine remained dedicated to this project – passionate about supporting local schools and organizations, committed to protecting the environment and keeping the pieces of furniture out of the landfill, and dedicated to their own school, ensuring they were prepared for the upcoming arrival of their students back in their classrooms. After a difficult year of online/hybrid learning and managing the complexities that come with navigating safety precautions while maintaining academic excellence, it was impressive to see how dedicated these two educators remained. A trait we continue to see through the interactions of teachers not only throughout this use case, but every single day.
Have surplus items at your organization that can be donated? Download the free case study below and contact our Ecosystem team for a free consultation.
There are many heroes in this story of reuse.
The educators at KIPP who thought differently and chose a more meaningful and impactful approach, the individual teachers who reached out on their own to ensure their classrooms were prepared for their students prior to the start of the school year, the Facilities team within CPS to support this project amidst their growing and expansive workloads, and community partners such as MAC Solutions who saw an opportunity to support local organizations and answered the call.
This is what achieving a true circular economy will take. It will require us to think differently, to consume differently, to support each other, and to answer the call to be helpful.
Rheaply appreciated the opportunity to be part of this project and serve the community they call home. It is their hope that this doesn’t mark an ‘end’ or just one use-case, but rather, that it marks the beginning of a much greater partnership with the Chicago Public School System and K-12 schools around the nation.
Special thanks to the following individuals for their partnership and support:
- Jennifer L. Hodges – Vice President, Whole Child Initiative & Community Impact, KIPP Chicago
- Lauren Lowinger – School Operations Leader, KIPP Ascend Primary
- Jasmine Chase – Director of Operations, KIPP Academy Chicago
- Sharmin Ballard – Warehouse Manager, Chicago Public Schools
- Mark Newell – Business Process Manager, MAC Relocations
- Jed Levenstein – Vice President, Wurkwel Ventures, LLC