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| Updated: January 28, 2021 6 min read

Lasting Impressions

People who made a difference with popular promotional items

Posted: October 01, 2019 | Updated: January 28, 2021 | Joshua Grover-David Patterson 6 min read

In honor of our 5th anniversary, we wanted to check in with a few of the organizations that made a difference using popular promotional items. Let’s take a look at where they are today.

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Taking steps to better health

Pulaski High School

In the mid-2000s, Sue Mathews, a school nurse at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was concerned that students spent summer vacations playing video games and doing other sedentary activities. Using a grant focused on preventing Type II Diabetes, she partnered with the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center on a program encouraging students to record their steps with pedometers. Students received “Funny Money” for taking walking “trips” around the United States and exchanged the money for popular promotional items.

Pulaski high school popular promotional items including bags, a hat and sunglasses

When we met Mathews 10 years after the program’s start, numerous students had learned important lifetime habits.

Still on the move

Though Mathews has since left the school, school nurse Crystal Hoecherl has kept the walking program moving. The program has increased its scope to teach children more about diet and exercise and how they affect Type II Diabetes prevention.

“Health education students from Alverno College are handling the day-to-day of it,” Hoecherl said, a change she feels is a win for both sets of students. “The college students are learning how to make this information interesting for kids.”

One other innovation has literally brought fresh food into the equation and teaches students how to grow their own food. “We’re also growing some aerogardens so that kids can taste what fresh vegetables taste like,” Hoecherl said.

Energize Portable Power Bank

Students chose a variety of promotional items as rewards for their achievements.


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Winning leadership

Wisconsin Leadership Seminars (WILS)

Using only volunteers and charging no participant fees, the Wisconsin Leadership Seminars (WILS) presents a three-day summer conference that helps students hone leadership skills and build a support network of like-minded peers.

To raise money that provides fully-funded sponsorships for all attendees, its alumni association sold branded apparel. So when 4imprint offered a “brand with 10 grand!” contest, alumni created a video entry—and then asked their friends and colleagues to vote for it daily. Their hard work and ambition paid off with a win.

With the $10,000 promotional product prize, they planned to stock more items for their alumni association to sell and raise funds for more students to participate in leadership development opportunities.

Risky Business Sunglasses

Raise funds with trendy promotional products.

Funds continue to grow

“We invested part of the money to create branded merchandise—like sweatshirts, T-shirts and sunglasses—which was sold to alumni of the WILS program,” said Sarah Perkins, president of the WILS board of directors. “It allowed us to increase profit margins so we could offer more money for students to attend conferences and award college scholarships.”

They used another portion of the prize money to invest in table throws, sail signs, and other items they could display at events, plus thank-you gifts for volunteers.

“When we invest in our volunteer gifts, we get items like the enamel pins or coffee tumblers, which people wear at work or drink from at school. Seeing our logo has sparked conversations with coworkers or strangers that have led to donations. Or someone will say, ‘Oh, I went to WILS too,’ or ‘My daughter went to that conference. How can I get involved?’ And it has reconnected people who attended the conference 15 years ago.”

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Thirsting for change

Burnhamthorpe Public School

During a lesson designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills, second grade teacher Kyle Pitman’s and fifth-grade teacher Sarah Emmett’s classes investigated school water-bottle usage. They learned that only 1 in 3 bottles was recycled and that their school—Burnhamthorpe Public School in Mississauga, Ontario—used nearly 200 bottles in a single day.

The students put a plan into motion: They would sell reusable water bottles to fund a school water-bottle filling station and raise money to get clean water for schoolchildren in Africa through an organization called Drop in the Bucket.

The discovery became a lesson on business management, economics, mathematics, global water issues, ecology, marketing and so much more.

ID Sport Bottle

Students still thirst to help

These second- and fifth-graders changed their community and the world with their projects.

Students sold the water bottles over the course of the next two school years—roughly 800 bottles in all. “It was awesome to see the students embrace it; the families embraced it; even the community embraced it. It was really humbling for me and the school,” Pitman said.

They built one filling station—followed by three more. Thanks to a grant sponsorship, they virtually eliminated disposable water bottle use. They also provided funds to Drop in the Bucket, which were used to provide clean water to refugee camps.

Seeing two ambitious projects through to completion would be a major accomplishment for any classroom, but students wanted to do more.

“I showed the kids a video about what it was like to live in different countries, and the kids didn’t want to talk about academic discussion, they wanted to talk about what kids in developing nations were dealing with and how they could help,” Pitman said.

After discussing the costs of feeding a family in a developing nation, the class connected with an organization that offers job training and small loans. “We ended up raising enough money to help two families start businesses in Nicaragua,” he said.


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Marking the occasion with a bang

Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF)

As part of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Alaska Satellite Facility gathers research data for the scientific community, including NASA, on glaciers and climate change as well as flooding and the Amazon rainforest.

For its 25th anniversary celebration, ASF helped attendees of all ages learn about propulsion by allowing them to fire bottle rockets and water pressure rockets. The ASF also gave away Bungee Rockets, which ended up being top giveaways. “There were some really, really tall “children” standing in line to shoot the rockets!” ASF Director Nettie La Belle-Hamer noted at the time.

The event enabled ASF to connect to the community and get kids (and their parents) excited about science.

Bungee Rocket

Turn an ordinary get-together into a blast!

Event sparked more celebrations

Since the celebration, La Belle-Hamer has noticed one major change that she views as extremely positive. “I have noticed that the university has become more interested in hosting these kinds of events,” she said.

“They take a fair bit of time to prepare, especially to make sure that there are things the kids would be interested in,” La Belle-Hamer continued. “But we are changing the way the university is interacting with the local community, opening up our doors in a different way.”

One other thing is for certain: People remember the event, and their popular promotional item left an impression. “People are still calling up and asking if we have any more of those rockets,” she said. “It was definitely one of our better swags.”


Do you have a promotional products success story? Tell us about it at [email protected].