It all came full circle for U.S. Rep. Ron Barber on Thursday as he stood before a roomful of educators, receiving a lifetime humanitarian-achievement award from the charitable organization he helped found 30 years ago.
Barber and Citi Tucson, a branch of the Citigroup financial family, were honored by the Educational Enrichment Foundation with the Ray Davies Lifetime Humanitarian Achievement Award.
The honor recognizes people who have made a significant contribution to Tucson by supporting enhanced education and increased the awareness of the principles of humanitarianism.
Serving as the first board chairman of the EEF in 1983, Barber’s commitment to public education inspired donors, community volunteers and board members to help grow the foundation into an organization that is now regularly called upon to help students achieve.
The Educational Enrichment Foundation serves the Tucson Unified School District’s most vulnerable students with shoes, clothes, prescription eyewear and the means to participate in activities that contribute to their education, like sports, band and dance.
It also supports teachers through classroom grants designed to expose children to innovative, authentic and memorable learning experiences.
Since opening its Tucson operation in 2004, Citi has made it a priority to give back to the community, volunteering more than 100,000 hours and partnering with EEF by collecting more than 10,000 back-to-school items annually to distribute to students across TUSD and sponsoring shoe-shopping trips for children in need.
Randy McDonald, Citi’s Tucson site president, said he was humbled by the honor Thursday and praised Citi employees for going above and beyond, but he used the opportunity to issue a call to action to other businesses to get in on the act to ensure “every child has what they need to learn.”
Added Barber: “Public education is the bedrock of our democratic society, it’s what has made us who we are and it is what will sustain us. But we have to get back to supporting it and nurturing it because clearly it has dropped in priority in our country and in our state.”
It is the lack of funding, specifically in Arizona, said TUSD’s new leader, H.T. Sanchez, who hails from Texas, that makes EEF’s contributions that much more significant.
“Contributions have so much more of an impact here,” Sanchez said, speaking at the luncheon that doubled as a fundraiser. “Things that are taken for granted by many are so meaningful and impactful so students can walk in the door with pride and prepared for success.”