Local HBCUs such as Howard, Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore are in the running for the Retool Your School program offered through The Home Depot. (Courtesy Photo)

By Reginald Allen II
Special to the AFRO

The Home Depot announced that it will double its donation to $1 million towards the improvement of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs). The company’s annual Retool Your School (RYS) program awards 30 schools with up to $75,000 in grants to go toward campus expenses. 

Melissa Saunders, founder of the Retool Your School program, said that she is truly passionate about this program. “HBCUs are crucially important to the American educational system,” said Saunders. “And being able to offer support annually is so special for both myself and the Home Depot team.”

An RYS grant can be an extra incentive for Maryland HBCUs as they receive their long-awaited $577 million that Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed in 2020. 

Five schools eligible this year for a grant are from the D.M.V. area: Bowie State (#bowie_rys21) Coppin State (#coppin_rys21), Howard University (#howard_rys21), Morgan State (#morgan_rys21) and Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) (#umes_rys21).

Everyone had the opportunity to vote for their favorite school from February 15 until March 15 through the RYS website or via social media. A school’s hashtag is one vote towards the university of choice. Students, alumni and family members used these hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to increase the chances of a ‘campus improvement award’ or CIA grant.

Wyman Jones Jr., a Morgan State University alumna said, “I think the fact that Home Depot committed $1 million is phenomenal. And if we do win this, this will be a great thing that happens to the university on top of the other donations that the university has received within the last year. I think the university is shaping up to become a powerhouse. As an alumna, I am very proud of my alma mater.”

On March 10, Howard University ranked fifth out of 17 schools with 166,575 votes. Morgan State was seventh, and Bowie State was the last on the ‘Cluster 1’ leaderboard. The leaderboards for Retool Your School are dependent on current school enrollment. 

Cluster 1 schools like Howard and Morgan State report more than 4,000 students. Cluster 2 schools like Coppin State and UMES maintain at least 1,201, but less than 3,999 students. In the cluster 2 leaderboard, Coppin State ranked sixth out of 22 and UMES ranked tenth out of 22. 

For smaller HBCUs like Bowie State, students have shown interest in opportunities like Retool your School. “It is very important as a small HBCU to stay involved in opportunities to better the school,” said Olivia Watts, a Bowie State student-athlete. “If we don’t do anything as an entire family, we will never get what we want,” she added after learning that Bowie State trails with only 1,510 votes, which is equivalent to about 24-percent of the fall 2020 general student body enrollment.

A final incentive is the ‘Campaign of the Year’ award. This $45,000 award is given to one institution for having an “original and particularly effective” campaign and is only available to one school no matter the cluster.

Grant recipients will be announced at the Retool Your School program ceremony on April 14. The 30 grant recipients are selected by being in the top ten of their RYS cluster.

The recipients will have to submit a proposal for their ‘campus improvement award’ (CIA Grant) no later than April 30 to be approved. According to RYS rules: “proposed improvements remitted should fall within one of the following categories to be eligible: windows/doors, ECO friendly, facility upgrade, lighting, flooring, general construction.”

The Home Depot will provide the CIA grant recipients with a gift card up to $75,000, but no less than $20,000. Recipients must use the gift card at The Home Depot stores and it is the responsibility of the school to handle any taxes incurred.

For more information on the program, visit www.retoolyourschool.com.