For 14 years, Station Casinos has been a partner with the Clark County School District and the Public Education Foundation in the Smart Start Program. And during that time, the owner of the Stations, Fiestas and Wildfire casino brands has made what it sees as an “investment” of $2.5 million in education.
“Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta have always believed in investing in the community as well as in public education,” said Lori Nelson, Station Casinos’ vice president of corporate communications.
“Station Casinos is one of only a few family-owned and operated gaming companies in town,” Nelson explained. “The Fertitta brothers own the company; they grew what their father did with Palace Station into what is now 18 entertainment destinations in town.”
Nelson credited the success of their philanthropic efforts to both their passion and unique approach.
The process started when they went out “together with a few of us to explore what makes sense,” she said.
The Smart Start partnership grew out of the Ferittas’ belief that money and resources are best invested “in the public education arena.”
Each of the Station Casinos has a team which partners with a particular elementary school and assess needs and determines the best way to serve the children.
Station Casinos properties have focused efforts on 10 particular elementary schools considered by the Clark County School District to be high-need elementary schools.
Principals and teachers provide valuable input. Open communication between the schools and the team members help to provide assistance with once unknown needs.
To begin this collaboration, Nelson recalled, Station Casinos’ representatives sat down with Clark County School District representatives. “They brought to our attention (to) what they call high-need or at-risk schools.” The school districts stressed that Station Casinos “can make the most change by helping at-risk elementary schools.” It is the elementary schools where “they need the most resources, they need the most mentoring, not so much for their staff but for the kids.”
Out of these discussions came the Smart Start program, designed “to keep them in school, give them continuity, help them rise to the occasion,” Nelson said. “The idea was to help give these kids the extra resources that the state budget and the school district” could not provide.
Whitney Elementary School has been a Station Casinos’ Smart Start School for more than 11 years. In that time, “the funds they provide each year enable us to purchase basic materials for the classroom and at home, that they otherwise would not have,” said Principal Sherrie Gahn. “The commitment is beyond monetary. Team members donate their time to be at school events and make personal connections with our students. That in itself is immeasurable.”
Nelson shared a story of a surprise event where team members thought they were working on a team building exercise putting together bicycles. However, when they completed the bikes, a group of children were brought in and each was awarded with a bike for things like perfect attendance, most improved and other areas of achievement.
Station Casinos also provides some traditional programs and services, such as back-to-school drives that gather supplies, back packs, and supplies for students and teachers. And they provide unique services such as Thanksgiving dinners for families in need, hosting holiday events, and providing teacher appreciation awards.
Each of the Station Casinos has different programs. At Sunset Station, for example, Hollingsworth HERO boxes attached to the ticket kiosks throughout the prop-erty allow guests to donate small amounts of change on a winning ticket to Hollingsworth Elementary.