Jennifer Prado was pregnant 18 years ago when she and her husband, J.C., acquired their first McDonald's franchise near Interstate 75. Since then, she has had a partnership with Eastside Elementary School.
The Prados have eight stores now and are committed to the communities in which all of them are located. The family is so integrated with the company that their daughter Rachel, 22, a recent University of South Florida graduate, plans to train to be a store owner-operator.
One of Jennifer Prado's Eastside contacts is parent educator Beth Zacharias, who worked out a breakfast meeting for the school's new teachers. Some are new to the school, and some are new to teaching.
Twelve faculty members were invited to the Ridge Manor McDonald's for breakfast on the house. It was an opportunity for Zacharias and principal Beverly Chapin to meet with the teachers in a relaxed setting to distribute packets and discuss parent involvement.
Sipping orange juice and coffee and eating breakfast sandwiches, the teachers listened to presentations by Zacharias and Chapin and examined their packets.
"In their binder are tools to assist them throughout the year and how to get parents involved," Zacharias said.
Megan Bonner, a first-year teacher, said she enjoyed the outing. "I think it's good," she said. "They want to build a sense of community among teachers and parents and students and this is part of it." Bonner is an exceptional-education kindergarten and first-grade inclusion teacher.
Fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Greifenberger appreciated the pressure-free chance to talk and learn about her job. "It's nice. It's more casual. I'm a brand-new teacher."
Fifth-grade teacher Kim Elfaituri agreed. "I think it's very nice. It encourages our community."
The section of McDonald's where they were seated was made festive with balloons. "This is my community," Jennifer Prado said. "The community supports us, so we give back to the community."
Title I lead teacher Margie Ellis was on hand to talk with the teachers. "This is the first time we've done this here," she said. "We wanted to introduce them to one of our partners."
This is one of many times the store has supported the school. The McDonald's provides coupons to motivate children to read. Prado has made telephone calls and written letters to solicit prizes for rewards for ambitious Accelerated Reader reading. (Accelerated Reader is a program that quizzes students on comprehension and gives points for correct answers. Schools decide how to reward high AR achievers.)
Prado has been on Eastside's School Advisory Council. Her store sponsors a family night, when 15 percent of sales is given to the school during a three-hour period.
The restaurant displays student artwork. "We try to do that two or three times a year," Ellis said.
"I'm open to whatever they want to do," Prado said.
"Anything we want to do, Jennifer supports us," Zacharias said. "There has never been a time when I picked up the phone and she said 'no.' " In fact, Zacharias said, she has asked Prado to give jobs to parents who really needed them over the years. One such parent now manages the Ridge Manor store.
"We have fun," Prado said. "It's all about family, the kids."