Just before 10 a.m. on a recent Friday, the Civano Coffee House on Tucson’s southeast side was packed with patrons.
The neighborhood coffee shop is often crowded with parents whose children attend the nearby Civano Community K-8 School. And that was the case that day, when a group of parents gathered to enjoy pastries and coffee.
“The community supports us and we support the community,” said Mario Pulkkinen, one of the coffee shop’s owners.
And support they did. Mario and John Pulkkinen recently donated $15,000 to help the school’s financially struggling art program. They had previously donated $7,000.
The Pulkkinens were aware of slashed school funding and that their neighborhood school was in need. So they decided to help.
“We all look out for each other,” John Pulkkinen said. At the same time, they both said “it’s just so sad that it’s come to this point,” where schools have to rely on outside sources for funding.
The donation will be used to help maintain two art teachers at the school who teach on Fridays and to buy supplies, said Bridget Uzzelle, director of the Civano school, which is a Vail School District charter school.
“It feels incredible that those business folks are engaged in the community and engaged in the future of their community,” she said.
Money has always been tight to support quality art, drama and physical education programs, she said. This year, the school had to dip into a “rainy day fund” of donations to cover the cost of those programs.
“From where I sit, I would love it if schools were just funded and we didn’t have to go down this path for basic programs,” she said.
Uzzelle said she realizes how lucky the school is to have engaged community members like the Pulkkinens support the school, but she also worries about other children in the Arizona school system who also need help.
“If all of our business leaders were thinking this way and lawmakers were thinking this way, we would be providing excellent education for all of Arizona’s schools and not just the community of Civano,” she said.
The donation reflects that the community values creativity, said Kate Hodges, who teaches art at Civano and several other schools in the Tucson area.
Creativity is the “basis and foundation of so many educational endeavors,” she said.
Hodges, who also owns Little Lightning Studios downtown, said she sometimes had to solicit donations for her art classes outside of her paid time at the schools.
With the donated money, she said she hopes to bring in guest artists and speakers to enrich her students’ experiences with art, as well as purchasing better material and art history books.
“I’m really not taking that donation lightly,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have the special support to make the school strong.”
For Stephanie Mitchell, who was one of the parents at the cafe that Friday, the Civano Coffee House has become more than a neighborhood gathering spot.
Her two children — a seventh- and a third-grader — go to Civano Community School. She said the parents were concerned about the art program’s future.
“It means a lot to have business owners who live here and who want to see everyone thriving, including the kids,” she said. “Their generosity is mind-blowing.”
The Pulkkinens are not new to giving. They also donate to other organizations and causes, including the El Rio Community Health Center, Ironwood Pig Sanctuary and a no-kill cat shelter.
“We get a lot of support,” John Pulkkinen said. “It just makes sense to put it back out there, even if we don’t see direct benefit personally.
“I can’t take it with me.”
For Mario Pulkkinen, the desire to give has been brewing from the time he spent in a homeless mission as a younger man.
“I know exactly what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “I think that’s what drives me.”
Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at 520-573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung