I'd like introduce you to a charity that can change the world.
With more than 20 years working with charity organizations, I've been involved in programs that have helped a lot of people -- from domestic hunger relief to HIV/AIDS to my current role at jcpenney, where I'm grateful to have been a part of distributing more than $100 million to after-school programs.
While every cause I've worked on delivers on the promise of changing and saving lives, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) not only changes the lives of the kids who participate, but it ignites a passion for invention that will change the world. An innovative after-school program founded by Dean Kamen, FIRST inspires kids to explore their passion for science and technology through participation in March-Madness-style robotics competitions. Like will.i.am, who is sponsoring the back-to-school special "i.am FIRST: Science Is Rock and Roll" about the organization this Sunday, I'm convinced that these students will be the business and technology leaders of tomorrow, leveraging their ingenuity to fuel our economy and solve some of our most important global issues.
Currently, one in four students in the U.S. is unsupervised between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., demonstrating the need to make after-school programs accessible to those who need them most. With the growing education gap and schools operating on budget cutbacks, there's never been a more important time to focus on the after-school cause.
Programs, such as FIRST, that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education are of particular importance for our country. There is little dispute that U.S. students are severely lagging in science and math compared with their international counterparts. Education research further reveals that student interest is declining at a time when our nation needs more promising students to enter technical fields. This issue affects not only the productivity of all industries that rely on the availability of high-tech workers and the work they do to create innovations that transform our society, but also our country's ability to successfully compete in a global marketplace.
The preparedness of America's youth to compete globally is an important national issue and -- as a company that serves more than half of America's families each year -- jcpenney recognizes that we each have a role in helping to solve it. That's why over the last decade, we've leveraged our presence across 1,100 local communities, including a nationwide network of stores and our e-commerce site, jcp.com, to engage our customers and associates to help kids through life-enriching after-school programs, such as FIRST.
jcpenney shares will.i.am's vision to bring the academic sport of FIRST Robotics to every school in America. Building on our current support of 500 FIRST teams, we have set a goal to sponsor a high school FIRST team in more than 1,100 communities across the country, with a specific focus on increasing participation among minority and female students.
To help accelerate this commitment, we're honored to partner with will.i.am to donate $200,000 to offer 20 schools or nonprofit youth organizations the opportunity to apply for a $10,000 i.am FIRST rookie team grant so they can start their very first high school robotics team.
I'm proud to be part of an organization that joins Dean Kamen and will.i.am in instilling in kids the value that it's cool to be smart. Science is rock and roll. But don't take my word for it: tune in to watch will.i.am's back-to-school special this Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. ET on ABC, and decide for yourself.
For more information about the i.am FIRST rookie team grants, visit jcpenneyafterschool.org.
Jodi M. Gibson is divisional vice president of jcp cares, jcpenney's corporate social responsibility platform focusing on the afterschool issue, community relations and our environment. She is also president of the jcpenney afterschool fund.
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