Sunday, March 8, 1998
Shannon Carter
Her store gives teachers free supplies

BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

1997 Women of the Year
Shannon Carter, president of Crayons to Computers, sorts items at the store's warehouse.
(Gary Landers photo)
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A tour of the Crayons to Computers warehouse is a journey through the life of the woman who created the free store for teachers, Shannon Carter.

The storage area and store are painted in primary colors, reminiscent of the bright women's clothing and shoes she sold as proprietor of Hyde Park's Pappagallo Shop in the 1970s and 1980s.

Crayon-like signs hang from the warehouse ceiling - "art & science," "computers & equipment," "paper."

"I was in retail for 26 years," says Mrs. Carter, 48, of Hyde Park. "This is the most fun I've had because there's no cash register. This is me. I'm not taking up golf."

Organizing and directing Crayons to Computers is in keeping with the example of community service Mrs. Carter says was established in her life by her mother (Sylvia Schwab), stepfather (Nelson Schwab) and husband (Lee Ault Carter).

"All three - pillars of the community," she says. "This represents how I feel about life and people, always wanting to give of myself, serve the community, make a difference, to love and be loved, to put a creative spin on it."

On this February morning, an inmate programs coordinator visits from Warren and Lebanon correctional institutions. The woman had visited before and left with art supplies - markers, pencils, paper, poster board. She was back today with the inmates' creations - hand-drawn flashcards and letter- and number-learning games. The flashcards and games will end up where more than $1 million worth of school supplies have - in the hands of students (via their teachers) in 100 Tristate schools that serve largely impoverished communities.

In fact, a running tally sheet greets visitors to the Bond Hill warehouse.

As of February, it had posted these numbers:

  • Value to goods distributed to children in Tristate schools: $1.15 million.

  • Eligible schools (based on poverty index): 100. Teachers from wealthier schools can earn shopping sprees by donating three hours labor.

  • Teacher visits: 5,588.

  • Individual and corporate donors: 618.

  • Pencils into classrooms: 1.2 million.

  • Volunteer hours: 3,520.

  • Volunteers: 350.

"Shannon's work with Crayon to Computers has been one of the most exciting volunteer efforts to serve children, teachers and schools," Lynn Marmer of the Cincinnati Board of Education writes in a nomination letter. "It quickly grew from a good idea to an enormously successful program under Shannon's leadership."

Shannon Carter
  • Birthplace: Hyde Park.
  • Residence: Hyde Park.
  • Activities: President, chairman of the board of Crayons to Computers, a free store for teachers. She has also donated her time and talent to raising money for the Cincinnati Ballet, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Taft Museum - among many other fund-raising projects.
  • Family: Married 19 years to Lee Ault Carter, a retired marketing executive. Two children: Gunner Blackmore, 22; Cody Carter, 16. Education: Hillsdale School (now Seven Hills), 1967; Wheaton College, Newton, Mass., bachelor's degree in art history, 1971.
  • Best advice received: ''A lot of people (mother, stepfather, teachers, husband) over the years have told me, 'Do the best you can.' '' This also stuck: ''Be kind and other-oriented.''
  • Mrs. Carter's Leadership Cincinnati class came up with the idea for Crayons to Computers and nurtured it to fruition. Mrs. Carter was the driving force.

    She worked with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative and FreeStore - FoodBank Inc. to get Crayons off the ground. Corporate Cincinnati's biggest names adorn the list of donors.

    A computer technician - one of four paid staff - makes sure donated monitors, keyboards, printers and other computer parts are in working order.

    The store opened Feb. 11, 1997, and teachers take an average of $200 in merchandise with them each visit. The only thing the store asks for in return is a thank-you note from students and teachers to the individual or corporation that donated the goods. Clipboards list who donated what. They hang from a wall near the shopping carts donated by Kroger Co., which also supplied shelving.

    The scene is somewhat of a departure for the woman who made her name as an in-demand effective arts fund-raiser.

    She already has a strategic plan to take the Crayons to Computers model nationwide. It's about recycling and reusing.

    "I like the earthy feel of this place," says Mrs. Carter, who supplies as much brawn as brains to the operation.

    "She loves climbing and pushing stuff around," says Julia Helwig, Crayons' executive director. "She has so much energy and enthusiasm.

    "She's the Martha Stewart of the warehouse scene."

    Juanita M. Adams | Rebecca Bechhold | Sarah Blanken | Shannon Carter
    Susan S. Friedlander | Barbara Gould | Margaret Richards | Susan Tew
    Judith Van Ginkel | Kathy Wade
    Cover | Introduction | Previous winners