Our children, our future Featured

9:02am EDT December 3, 2001
Jo Ann Mason has happy memories of growing up in Parma.

Although the economy was tenuous with recessions and inflation, it was perhaps a simpler, more innocent time. Debates over school levies were few and far between. But today, tight budgets strain already stretched educational facilities.

That's why Mason is grateful to be a part of Cox Communications, the fifth largest telecommunications company in the United States and perhaps one of the few nationwide organizations to put its money where its heart is on a local basis.

Franchised since 1979 and headquartered in Parma, Cox serves 10 communities in Cleveland's southwest suburbs. Its long-standing tradition of educational and civic support has earned the cable service provider a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service.

As director of Government Affairs and Education Outreach, Mason spearheads the company-sponsored programs with her four-person staff. Cox employs 125 people, yet more than 100 times that many children benefit from its programs.

Since 1983, area schools have gotten free cable television in the classrooms, not to replace teaching curriculums but to provide teachers with an additional tool. Career days, diversity programs and grants for special learning projects expose children to new worlds. And through its Partners in Proficiency program, Cox covers the costs of proficiency learning tools for all six of the school districts it reaches.

"Every child deserves any and everything a community can give to help with that child's upbringing," says Mason, still as enthusiastic as the day she was hired 21 years ago.

While altruistic, Mason is far from nave.

"If you don't have a quality school system, it reflects on the community," she says. "People start moving out of the community, and the community begins to slide downhill."

Kevin Haynes recently stepped into the positions of vice president and general manager after 23 years with Cox. He says working with children is especially gratifying, and sets thh compnay apart from its biggest compeitors, national satellite companies. Cox's initiatives expand as the needs of the communities grow, he says.

"What we want to be when we grow up speaks volumes of what enabled us to receive this award," says Haynes. "We want to be the best telecommunications company to not only work for, but to do business with while improving the quality of life in the communities we serve."

Not many companies dedicate almost 5 percent of their work force to community programming and philanthropy. Innovative ideas from the Cox family include Kid Classics, a children's alternative to TV brain drain during the summer, in which children are invited to screen films based on classic books and also receive a copy of the book.

Cox, in cooperation with Lakewood's Beck Center for the Arts, gave students the opportunity to listen to talks and learn from persons with disabilities. And Cox employees volunteer at the annual Parmatown Mall Read-A-Thon.

In conjunction with its effort to promote responsible viewing, Cox worked with Cuyahoga Community College to bring a day of seminars and lectures to the campus, including experts discussing the effects on children of television violence. The company also goes on the road, providing Critical Viewing Workshops to local PTAs and civic organization.

Haynes says that as a father, he knows every day is a parenting adventure. And while Cox's initiatives benefit the company through name recognition, he believes its long-standing tradition and marriage with education improve the quality of family life and set the local viewing area apart. How to reach: Cox Communications, (216) 676-8300

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.