Toyota is leaving, that we know. But, remarkably, as some of our friends and neighbors are relocating to a Plano, Texas, combined U.S. center or to its operations in Georgetown, our good corporate citizen is leaving behind an incredible legacy—a going-away gift of terrific impact.

Toyota has donated its Quality and Production Engineering Laboratory, an 183,000-square-foot facility, on the campus of its Erlanger-based North American Manufacturing headquarters to create a world-class education center for the region.

The gift launched the Ignite Institute at Roebling Innovation Center, a STEAM—science, technology, education, arts and math—school and education center to become a collaborative space for teachers and a terrific opportunity for students.

Boone County Schools will operate the school as a district Innovation School of Choice, open free of charge to students throughout NKY who want project-based, hands-on, collaborative education. Programs will focus on problem solving, teamwork and nontraditional approaches to learning where students in grades 9-12 move through at their own pace.

The state weighed in with a Work Ready Skills grant to help convert the lab to a school.

Superintendent Randy Poe of Boone County Schools describes the opportunity as a “dream come true.” It is scheduled to be ready for students in fall 2019.

“The school will include the best aspects of innovative schools around the county,” says Poe.

Thanks go to Mike Goss, general manager of Toyota Social Innovation, and to former Toyota executive Carri Chandler (now head of the St. Elizabeth Foundation) for working with community leaders and others to conceive and execute the project.

“Since announcing the transition from Erlanger, we collaborated with civic, business and education leaders on how we could best serve the region,” says Goss. “We hope to create a lasting positive impact through this school, helping prepare students for the next generation of jobs. We invite other companies and businesses and the region’s civic leaders to help make the school a success.”

Gov. Matt Bevin, state Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and Hal Heiner, secretary for education and workforce development, were on hand for the big announcement.

While Toyota’s presence in Kentucky remains strong—8,000 employees producing more than 500,000 vehicles a year in Georgetown—NKY will miss its big Toyota headquarters and the team members who were such a big part of our community.

Its parting is sweet sorrow and leaves a big corporate citizen hole to fill, but its parting gift to the community is, well, special beyond words.

A Helping Hand

So while we are counting our blessings for leadership and innovative facilities, let’s also thank the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission and executive director Florence Tandy and her team for establishing the Lincoln Grant Scholar House in Covington.

The Scholar House is a residence for low-income single parents who are pursuing an education. Residents can live there if they have a child or children under 18, meet the low-income housing requirements and are enrolled or seeking to be enrolled in higher education. The NKCAC offers support services for the children—education for preschoolers and infants—counseling, career services, mentors, coaching and more to the parents.

“Single parents face unique challenges when pursuing higher education,” says Dawn Fogarty, vice president at the NKCAC. “The Scholar House offers affordable housing in an environment of continuous learning with like-minded peers.” 

The good news? Even before the ribbon-cutting, the house was full with 41 families. Forty-one families now with a brighter future. How good is that?

There’s a waiting list—and this demonstrates the need and the importance of the vision to create opportunities for those who want a better, self-sufficient life.

NKCAC is taking away homelessness or unstable housing situations, which create terrific stumbling blocks for these families. The parents are enrolled at Gateway, Mount Saint Joe, NKU, God’s Bible College, Cincinnati State, Liberty University and Indiana Tech, confident that their children are safe and thriving.

A successful drive for furnishings meant every apartment was ready for the families. The NKCAC is still in need of donations—mostly for washers and dryers and for ongoing support. Naming opportunities are available for bigger funding.

There is also a Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport that is a collaborative project offered by Brighton Center and the Neighborhood Foundation, which offers the same opportunities and has been open since 2015. It has 42 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units.

These are amazing projects that can change families’ lives.