Our Stories

Helping the Next Generation

Did you know that by age three a child’s brain is 80 percent developed? And that reading, talking, laughing and singing with your child is the most important thing you can do from the time they’re born to the time they’re three years old? Those simple things can change a child’s life.

If you chat with John and Maria Upchurch and ask them what they’re passionate about, you’ll quickly hear these facts and more. Early learning initiatives and literacy for children 0-5 years old are causes they care deeply about.

“Maria’s a fifth grade teacher at Burnette Elementary and both of my parents were teachers,” John Upchurch said. “Maria and I have always been invested in the community, we’ve given back to our schools and communities for a number of years, and education is near and dear to our hearts.”

Even John’s business is in the education realm. He and his business partner own Scholastic Images in Suwanee, a company that provides class rings, letter jackets and more for high school students. So when John and Maria had the opportunity to give back in an even bigger way, they knew education would be one of their key causes.

“Through my company, Maria’s job and our community involvement, including my going through Leadership Gwinnett, we’ve been exposed to so many of the needs here in Gwinnett County,” John said. “Tax dollars really don’t supply the early education area of need in our state. So when we had the opportunity to donate appreciated stock, we wanted to help meet some of those needs.”

In early 2018, the Upchurches turned to their friend and financial advisor, Cliff Bray, for help donating their stock.

“He had noticed over the years how we were giving, and when we told him we had appreciated stock we wanted to donate, he suggested the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia,” John said. “I knew a couple other people who are fundholders there: Dan King and Dick LoPresti. I had gotten to know Dick really well from running the Duluth Thunderbolts swimming team, which Dick’s girls were on. So knowing he was involved in the Community Foundation made me even more comfortable about becoming a fundholder.”

It also didn’t hurt that John’s parents helped start the West Georgia Community Foundation.

“My family has always been involved in giving back – it’s just part of being teachers and having giving hearts,” he said.

For Maria, she’s always believed in the quote “to whom much is given, much is required”.

“We have been very fortunate and it just makes sense to share that with others,” she said. “Along with early education, we also feel very strongly about donating to cancer research and education. Cancer touches all of us.”

For the Upchurches, though they just became fundholders in March of 2018, giving through the Community Foundation has already proven beneficial.

“I think [becoming a fundholder] is the easiest way for someone to really make an impact in their community. You can donate appreciated stock and give to the things you’re most passionate about,” John said. “Our fund has already grown significantly so we know that it’s managed well, and everyone at the Community Foundation is there to help you if you need it.”

Giving of their time, talent and treasure is important to the Upchurches for many reasons. In earlier years, the Upchurches also helped Peachtree Ridge High School get started.

“That was a highlight of our time,” John said. “We have two adult sons, and at that time, our older son was entering eighth grade at Peachtree Ridge. In fact, we still give to the Peachtree Ridge cluster.”

John is also board vice president of the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, serves alongside Dan King on Gwinnett County’s early learning committee, helps with Reach Out and Read Georgia, and is also assisting Kim Holland, director of Early Learning and School Readiness at Gwinnett County Public Schools, with their early learning initiatives.

“I think giving of your time, talent and treasure helps builds great organizations. And everybody has something to give to help make an organization better,” John said. “We’ve been been lucky that we’ve been able to give all three of those at times. Early in our life we weren’t able to give our treasure. Now we can, and we’re glad we’re able to do that.”