Can a small high school, located in an equally small town actually win a national contest for $500,000? You betcha!
In what could only be described as a meteoric rise to the top, Lake High School went from 21st place to first during the final hours of the Kohl’s Cares Contest.
Once the final validations are in, Lake will be the recipient of the much-needed donation which will help with the school‘s rebuilding efforts. Announced in August, Kohl’s, in celebration of Kohl's Cares® 10th anniversary, is donating $500,000 to 20 schools, for a total of $10 million.
Kohl's Cares® is the company’s philanthropic program that supports children’s health and education.
Votes for schools from across the country were garnered through the company’s Facebook page. Each person was given 20 votes to cast for schools he or she supports. Each person was allowed to cast up to five votes per school. The contest, which brought in 10 million votes, ended at 11:59 p.m. (CDT) Friday, Sept. 3.
According to Elizabeth Urbanowski, a Lake graduate, entering her school into the contest was the easy part. Fighting to get the word out about Lake and its needs turned out to be a 12-hour-a-day job.
From her El Paso, Tex., home, Urbanowski set out on a media and public relations blitz using YouTube as well as various social networking sites.
“I created a website for people who did not have Facebook so they could be informed about the contest,” Urbanowski said. “I also created a video of the tornado and the destruction on YouTube which got 40,000 hits.”
Urbanowski also spent countless hours connecting with other schools in order to get cross votes.
“We were able to connect with Wadena School, located in Minnesota; Pius X, in Nebraska, and Trace Elementary, in San Jose, Calif.,, which suffered a huge arson fire,” Urbanowski said. “I created a video that had images of Lake, Trace, Wadena and Pius that showed the schools joining together.”
A week before the end of the contest, Urbanowski sent “thank you” notes to anyone who voted from the different schools for Lake.
“I sent messages to the top 100 schools asking for their help,” she said. “I asked them to ask people from their schools and community to use their extra votes for us and many of them did.”
Urbanowski said she received a lot of help from Amy Dalton, a Lake graduate who currently lives in Louisiana, as well as from Cecilia Brimmer, wife of Rick Brimmer, Lake band director.
“Cecilia helped with flyers and she also worked to get Ohio State University to send out mass e-mails to its students, alumni and faculty about our cause,” Urbanowski said. “Amy spent a ton of time updating our Facebook page and just getting the word out trying to get more votes.”
Other colleges that sent out mass e-mails included Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, Defiance College, Tiffin University and Lourdes College, Urbanowski said.
After a month of hard work, Lake found itself in 21st place in the votes on Friday – the last day of the contest. For Urbanowski, panic set in but she did not give up.
“I was upset,” she said. “There were many schools offering prizes and money for votes and we could not do that. I thought we would not make it. Around 10 p.m., I was looking at standings and we had a significant lead and I knew there was no way we could get knocked out. I had tears streaming down my face I was so happy.”
While Urbanowski and her cohorts were busy drumming up votes over the Internet, the school was also receiving help from local media sources.
Lee Herman, Lake principal, was just as surprised by the votes the school was receiving on the last day of the contest.
“That morning, we were in 21st, out of the running,” Herman said. “92.5 KISS FM came to campus at 7 a.m. and began broadcasting from the school about the contest. Within four hours, we had jumped to fifth place. It was such a dramatic turn-around.”
Throughout the contest, Lake moved within the top 20 count daily. Herman said although he tried to remain positive, he was not sure Lake would win in the end.
“I did think that if ever there was a time for us to win the contest, this would be it because of our story,” Herman said. “Being a small school in a small town, we knew it really was going to be an uphill climb. We are not located in a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles and New York.”
Herman said he and the school are grateful to Urbanowski for submitting Lake in the contest and for her hard word.
“We are very thankful for all that she did,” Herman said. “We have received many e-mails from people across the country who heard or read our story and decided to vote for us. We had a lot of people helping us that we did not know about and it was just a very happy experience.”
Although the school is holding off on celebrating officially, Herman said the money would be used to rebuild. Lake is currently battling its insurance company over what the monetary amount of loss to the school is, Herman said.
“We are ironing out with the insurance company exactly what the loss is in terms of dollars,“ Herman said. “We have had no contact from Kohl’s as yet. Assuming everything is ok, it is wonderful to have won. With the money we receive from insurance, the state, and Kohl’s, we will be able to rebuild.”
In the end, Urbanowski refuses to take credit for the win.
“I want to thank everyone,” she said. “I only had five votes. This could not have been done without this amazing community.”
According to the contest’s rules, winning schools will be required to outline the ideas they would like to fund and complete paperwork, including a detailed budget outline, related to the donation in order to receive the donation.
Vicki Shamion, Kohl's senior vice president, public relations and community relations, said in a statement, “Kohl’s congratulates all participants in the $10 million Kohl’s Cares Contest. The top 20 vote-getting schools and each school’s proposed programs are currently being verified by a third-party partner to ensure school submissions and budgets comply with contest terms and conditions. Once verified, all winners will be announced.”
Kohl’s is expecting to announce the winners by the end of September.