April 10, 2014

Building Knowledge

In the summer of 2009, Grace Xie, Director, Communications, UTC Aerospace China, was invited by a friend from Pratt & Whitney (P&W) Shanghai to attend a fundraising event arranged by employees to support library donations to elementary schools in Anhui Province.

“At the event,” she said, “I first got to know about The Library Project (TLP) and was impressed by the sincerity of Tom Stader, the founder, and his passion to simply bring books to children in the under-financed areas in China.”

TLP got its start in 2006, when Stader and four friends decided to donate a small library of children’s books to two orphanages in Dalian, China. A used book drive at six local schools yielded an astounding 4,000 books in the space of a week. Friends and family donated $500 to buy furniture, lighting and plants.

Subsequent small contributions allowed Stader, originally from the United States, who by then had moved to Vietnam, to occasionally donate books to schools in that country.

Then one day came a life-changing moment. Stader received a $10,000 donation from a friend, with the caveat that he devote himself to the project full time. He quit his job, moved back to China and, within a month, officially established TLP as a Xi’an-based nonprofit with its own mission statement, logo and board of directors.

The first year was a difficult one, with plenty of financial and logistical hazards. Just when things looked bleakest, the tiny TLP team had a breakthrough, identifying a school in dire need of assistance and raising funds for a library within 24 hours. Within a week, TLC had found the funds for five more, but its goal of donating hundreds of libraries each year still seemed like a long way off. With imagination and determination, TLP persevered, gradually making headway.

Then came another piece of serendipity.

Shortly after switching from the UTC Commercial Building division to Aerospace, Xie became acquainted with colleagues from Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand and Sikorsky, and learned about their involvement with TLP.

“I was completely amazed by their depth of knowledge, passion for continuous learning and willingness to help,” she said. “It seemed a good opportunity for UTC Aerospace China and The Library Project to become partners. It has been proven that TLP is a trustworthy nonprofit organization with a focus on children’s education, a young and passionate team, as well as a transparent and effective managerial style.”

Xie jumped in with both feet, leading the charge to make UTC’s relationship with TLP an official one.

Stader still recalls the day that the call from Xie came in. “As an organization, we were merely skin and bones at the time, attempting to donate 100 children’s libraries a year,” he said.

“Grace Xie contacted Christine Wang, the fundraising director for TLP, asking for more information. It was an incredible honor to have this massive company wanting to donate children’s libraries with us. We met with Grace, who talked about having UTC donate 100 libraries in the first year, thereby doubling our organization’s capacity. The second year, the number rose to 135. The TLP project, thanks to UTC’s help, now donates 350 libraries a year.”

To date, 1,223 libraries have been created.

“We could not have achieved that without Grace’s and UTC’s support, mentorship, understanding and kindness,” Stader said. “She really pushes our organization. I can’t come up with a quantifiable number as to what she’s meant to this project. The difference that she and her incredible project management department have made on this project is nearly indescribable.”

The libraries, containing anywhere from 750 to 1,000 books, range in size from a reading corner to a large, room-sized facility. Equipment includes brightly colored child-safe furniture and learning tools like globes, maps and DVD players.

Adding to this project’s success is the engagement of UTC employees who help TLP create new learning centers. Employees come from all over China, traveling for hours to help track books; assemble tables, chairs and bookshelves; and then share the library with the students for the first time.

Xie has also taken a hands-on role, and describes herself as “blessed” to be involved.

“I found myself being strengthened and inspired through volunteering to help (these) children,” she said. “As someone who prefers a clean, tidy environment, it was quite a challenge to me to even think about traveling to a rural area and staying there overnight. Interestingly, every time I took the donation trip with my colleagues, the smiling faces of the children and the kindness of my colleagues made me totally forget about the environment. Now, I’m proud that I can handle it!”

The bond between UTC and TLP was further strengthened in December, when they announced the launch of the “UTC China Library Project.” This year, the project will donate 100 libraries for students and another 30 geared to teachers, and volunteer opportunities will be extended to employees of UTC Building & Industrial Systems in China.

The cementing of the relationship with UTC has left Stader amazed and incredibly grateful. “I’m practically at a loss for words as to how terrific their involvement has been,” he said.

Xie, for her part, is equally impressed by the commitment and caring of the company’s volunteers. “In the past two years, I was profoundly touched by the great hearts that our colleagues displayed through the library project. From a Chinese machinist who just started his career at an MRO shop to an American leader who has been with the company for more than 35 years, from a lovely young lady who works at the UTC Aerospace China Office to a kind Canadian madam who quietly supports her husband’s expatriate assignment in China, they all care about the communities and work perfectly together to make things different through simple participation.”​