Rebuilding a community: 3M and Heart of America help damaged Gordon Parks High School thrive
Oct 5, 2021

In June of 2020, many buildings in the Twin Cities were damaged during civil unrest that left underserved communities even more vulnerable. Among those buildings were Gordon Parks High School (GPHS), a St. Paul high school that offers flexible class schedules for upperclassmen who need to make up credits. Located in the heart of Midway in St. Paul, GPHS’s work is imperative: providing a safe learning environment for underserved students and encouraging them to be their best. 

When Traci Gauer, principal of GPHS, surveyed the damage she knew they’d need help from community partners to revamp the building. “The damage was pretty significant,” she remembered. “We had glass windows and doors in our cafeteria, so those were both smashed in. A plastic garbage can was set on fire in the middle of the cafeteria, and it ruined the floor. The sprinklers were triggered [and caused water damage].”  

When 3M learned the school had been damaged in the riots, the 3Mgives team sprang into action. 3Mgives handles most of the company’s corporate giving and philanthropy, with a focus on social and equitable investments in the U.S. and internationally. 

“3M has been a partner of St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) for about 20 years now,” said Traci Gauer, principal of GPHS. “As soon as they heard about it, they reached out to the school district.” 

There was a lot that needed fixing, but 3M didn’t just want to restore the school to its former state — it wanted to add top-of-the-line products and art installations that would make students feel cared for and included when they returned to class.  

“This wasn't something to throw money at,” said 3Mgives strategist Chris Kondo. “This was a unique opportunity where we were able to combine our industry expertise with in-kind product donations and volunteers to actively make a difference. A week after the murder of George Floyd, I called Jill Hardy Heath, President and CEO of Heart of America, and indicated we wanted to be a part of the solution in the Rebuilding of St Paul and asked for nonprofits and schools affected. And they helped identify nonprofits and schools that were damaged in the Twin Cities that needed help.” 

Heart of America is a national education nonprofit that reimagines a more equitable education system by renovating and redesigning learning spaces, and providing the resources underserved communities need to succeed. The Heart of America team quickly partnered with 3Mers to select the schools where volunteers and funding could make the biggest difference: What developed was a partnership with GPHS, Springboard for the Arts, a St. Paul organization that helps local artists make a living and add color to their communities, and Noor Companies, a minority woman-owned social enterprise general contractor and developer. 

“Working with 3M has been a case study in corporate commitment to a cause,” shared Jill. “The pro bono services 3M provided, beyond the dollars they contributed, have been a true testament to their belief in this work. The students at Gordon Parks High School deserve a learning space worthy of their brilliance and potential, and thanks to the generosity of 3M and all our partners, they are now one step closer.” 

3M volunteers participated in a walkthrough of the school where they surveyed the damage, advising on what needed fixing and what 3M products could help improve students’ learning experiences. “Providing art and new fixtures gives students and teachers a sense of pride because everything looks new and makes for a better environment,” Chris said. “We brought in 3Mers who have deep expertise in our products and their applications. When they surveyed the damage, they were thinking about how we could use one product or another to help.” 

The pro bono volunteers found many places where 3M products could bring GPHS back to life. Finished graphics and architectural finishes using 3M films were used on doors, walls and floors to display new signage and art that bolstered GPHS’s dedication to inclusivity and equity. Now, when students and teachers step into classrooms, they’re met with quotes, photos and graphic designs created to encourage and inspire them. Additionally, the school’s exterior windows were retrofitted with films that provide safety, security and UV protection. “A lot of it had to do with just understanding [the student body],” Chris said. “It was a real collaborative effort to understand what the school’s needs are, and to understand how our products could help meet them.” 

In addition to the dedication of 3M volunteers, the collaboration with GPHS was made possible by 3M’s $50 million investment in addressing racial opportunity gaps in our communities over the next five years. Community collaboration with organizations like SPPS gives underserved students the opportunities and safe spaces they need to develop skills that will help them thrive in the workforce after graduation. “I’m so thrilled 3M wanted to partner with Gordon Parks specifically,” Traci said. “It’s been a huge partner with the school district through programs for students and teachers for so long and it’s a valuable asset.” 

Over a year after the damage, GPHS graduated its summer class of 2021. Fall programming is now underway. The new 3M fixtures can be seen all around the school — and by extension, the community partnership between 3M and GPHS. “This was a collective effort,” Chris said. “That made it all the more rewarding.” 


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