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Be cheerleader for kids, businesses, Ashtons say

Karen Ashton says she learned early on how important it is to children for their parents to be involved.

After a night spent sewing a Santa Claus costume for her first-grade son, she napped, overslept and missed his performance.By the time she made it to the elementary school, she was in tears. The parking lot was empty.

Her small son was sitting alone in the school library, angry and confused. He wouldn't even look at her until a teacher helped him realize his mother hadn't meant to miss the show.

"He reminded me of that experience for about 14 years," said Ashton, addressing the audience at the Partners in Education Appreciation Luncheon at Utah Valley State College Tuesday.

"Parents are the best cheerleaders, but when you give as corporations, you say, `You are worthy of our support. You are capable of great things, and we believe in you.' "

Ashton and her husband, Alan, who've given generous gifts to educational institutions and who founded Thanksgiving Point in Lehi as a way to say thank you to the Utah Valley community, said all people have something to give.

"Each of us has skills, talents, knowledge we can share," said Alan Ashton. "It doesn't mean you have to have children in those schools. Our responsibility as citizens is towards future generations.

"We care for them today, and they'll care for us tomorrow."

The Ashtons, who have 11 children and eight grandchildren, listed some of the ways they've been involved in schools and charted some avenues for businesses and individuals to do the same.

"At WordPerfect Corp. we offered a 75 to 80 percent discount on software sold to schools," said Alan Ashton. Those with children in a particular school could donate software. Software turned in for upgrades was donated to schools. Interns were encouraged to come to WordPerfect to work and learn. Employees were encouraged to spend time at the schools training teachers on the software.

While Alan Ashton was on the board at Geneva Steel, it was decided the steel mill would adopt Geneva Elementary. A grants program was set up so teachers could obtain funding for specific projects. Reference materials were donated.

At Thanksgiving Point, school children are invited and welcomed to tour the animal pens, the vegetable and flower gardens. "They can learn that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and white milk comes from regular cows," said Alan Ashton.

In one's family or within a business, a foundation can be created for the sole purpose of doing good, said the Ashtons.

"There are wonderful opportunities to learn and be charitable."

Today, Alan Ashton coaches the girls (and next year the boys) tennis team at his children's high school. Karen Ashton has volunteered in the reading literacy program at Hillcrest Elementary.

"Just being there is the main thing," said Alan Ashton.

"Be involved. Let them hear you cheering," said Karen Ashton.