When Bob Lauter toured the Naz Children’s Centre during a Master Spas dealer rewards trip in 2010, he couldn’t believe the state of the Jamaican school.
“It was in an impossibly small space,” recalls the CEO of the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based hot tub firm. “It was on a second floor of what was a nightclub on the weekend. The rooms had a divider but the walls didn’t even go all the way up [to the ceiling]. I don’t even know how you would teach, but you could see the kids and the teachers were engaged.”
Originally established in 2005 as a homework center, Naz grew into a mixed-ability education institution that caters to traditional and special needs students. Founded on the principles of fostering academic growth, personal development and tolerance using innovative methods, the facility has garnered the support of everyone from locals to the Jamaican Minister of Education.
Despite the efforts of its teachers and the impact they had on the community, the school was in dire straits.
Touched by what he saw during the impromptu tour, Lauter left his business card behind thinking Master Spas could help the suffering school. The following day, he received an email from the principle asking for assistance.
“I literally was thinking we would buy them new desks because they just had a hodgepodge of furniture,” he said.
But what started as a small gesture turned into the largest philanthropic endeavor Master Spas has embarked on in its history. A month after the initial visit, the firm kicked off The Master Spas Naz Project, a fundraising effort in which dealers would make a donation with each swim spa it sold, and the manufacturer would match the amount. Ultimately, the money would be put toward building a new facility.
The response from its dealers was more than Lauter had anticipated. The group, along with key executives and board members, donated an initial $150,000 to cover construction costs.
“I was surprised by how readily they agreed to do it,” he said. “It made me so proud of them because they generally wanted to be involved in this.”
Even with the full backing of its dealers, Master Spas could not accomplish the task without additional support. The land alone would cost more than $1 million US, and the entire project would exceed $30 million (Jamaican, the equivalent of $265,000 US). Inevitably, Lauter turned to local Jamaican businesses for assistance, and with the help of an eager and connected parent of two Naz students, he kicked off a grassroots campaign on the island.
It worked. After visiting with several top executives, he acquired the land and financial backing needed to bring his vision to fruition. Rosehall Development donated a piece of land in a central and safe location, while the Digicell Foundation, an arm of the largest cell carrier in the Caribbean, donated the $31 million Jamaican dollars toward the construction of the institution. Other firms contributed funds for necessities including furniture and electronics.
The new Naz Children Centre opened its doors in September 2013. Today, the school provides tailored learning programs for children in Kindergarten through the sixth grade in a safe, functional and well-planned space.
Master Spas and its dealers continue to support the school and have given nearly $150,000 additional funds for special projects like a playground, front wall/gate and scholarships. The playground recently was completed, and Lauter along with several dealers traveled to Jamaica after Thanksgiving to celebrate the opening of the new resource.
“I didn’t understand how hard it would be, but the fact that we could soldier through it and get it done was remarkable,” Lauter said. “The one thing I always said to my team and dealers is ‘We are better together, and collectively we can conquer anything.’”