Tom and LaVerne Branch are no strangers to volunteering, but the pandemic provided the couple the opportunity to help an organization they didn’t know much about: the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance.
The organization and its Executive Director Xan Black decided to revive its STEM IN A BAG concept to serve students without internet access as well as those experiencing too much screen time.
Black says she called the Community Action Project to inquire about finding volunteers that could package these projects to be handed out at Tulsa Public Schools’ food distribution sites during the summer. Longtime CAP volunteers the Branches were eager to assist.
During the stay-at-home order this spring, Black delivered components for three different kinds of STEM projects: a propeller kit, a parachute kit, factor bingo and coding with cards. Tom says they packaged anywhere from 800-1,200 individual kits, depending on the project, finishing them from their home in a couple of days.
In total, the Branches built over 10,000 kits for Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance.
“Volunteers are mission critical to a nonprofit like TRSA in that they are a force multiplier,” Black says. “We can have grand ideas and plans all day, but without people like the Branches, they will remain just that — ideas and plans. The Branches helped us take a concept like STEM IN A BAG and scale it to proportions that are so critical at this time for the continued engagement and inspiration of our students.”
Tom, who retired after 24 years in the Air Force and 20 years as warehouse manager for TPS, says, “Volunteering has become my third career.”
LaVerne retired from retail in 2004.
The couple also volunteers together at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, where they have been honored as co-volunteers of the year, as well as other local nonprofits. They mainly aid in office duties — filing, data entry and sorting.
“When we spend two or three days doing a project,” LaVerne says, “that’s 36-48 man hours that (the nonprofit) would need to do among its own responsibilities if there weren’t people like us.”
“Our reward is knowing we helped someone in need,” Tom says.