By Hiro Morris
Growing up in Hazard in Eastern Kentucky, Jonathan Beatty was determined to escape the grip of poverty. Now, after successful stints in corporate America, the young entrepreneur is determined to go back; rather, he’s determined to give back.
Beatty, of Louisville, has started a company called Servonta with the goal of making sure every child in his community and beyond receives the gift of reading and the opportunity to learn and grow beyond poverty’s boundaries.
“My success is a direct reflection of my education and my work ethic, both of which I gained from my parents,” Beatty said.
Beatty started Servonta, a company that provides a book for a needy child every time someone buys a Servonta product. (Photo provided)
Beatty’s parents not only emphasized education and hard work, but also the value of action and the importance of giving back to the community. “Faith without works is dead,” his father, a minister, would always say.
Those are the values he now incorporates into Servonta, a philanthropic-oriented start-up that sells t-shirts and other accessories promoting literacy and education and, in return, gives a new book to a child every time a sale is made.
“Being able to go through school, being able to become educated and then have a career, and choose to leave that career to do something positive is a humbling experience. You realize how fortunate you are,” Beatty said. “I felt like I was living in a bubble for a long time. Everyone around me was well-compensated, so I didn’t see struggle unless I was doing community service. When I was in California and saw the epidemic of homelessness, that’s really what triggered me to use my business skills to do something about a problem.”
As Beatty explained:
“One morning I was on my way to work, I’m getting off the train from Oakland where I lived, going into the city of San Francisco where I worked, and there were just rows of homeless people in the train station. I grew up in a trailer park, but I’ve never seen homelessness like that. People may have modest homes where I come from, but they have somewhere to live.
So far, Servonta has donated more than 2,000 new books. (Photo provided)
“To see that and to see all of these people making all of this money, walking by like it’s nothing, it was embarrassing for me as a human because that’s unacceptable. I walk into a building with multimillionaires and a couple of billion-dollar companies, and all of those resources, to think that there are people out there eating out of trash cans, while we have pets eating gourmet food. I just felt there was a fundamental flaw in what was going on.”
Beatty followed through after he read a June 2014 article in The New York Times, headlined “What’s The Matter with Eastern Kentucky?” The article detailed the poverty, health issues and the poor infrastructure of the educational system throughout the region.
He collaborated with the United Way of the Bluegrass and other area agencies with the vision to change the current state of illiteracy. Quite simply, he wants to make sure every child owns a book.
At Servonta, for every product that is purchased, a new book is given to a child in need through Scholastic Books. The company has already donated more than 2,000 new books to Lexington’s William Wells Brown Elementary, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning and the Ronald McDonald House.
According to Servonta’s “Get Lit Kentucky” online fundraising campaign, 60 percent of children in low-income homes do not have access to a book.
“Something as simple as a book is life-changing to a child,” Beatty said.
Servonta has collaborated with United Way of the Bluegrass to sell wrist bands. Proceeds from the Bands for Books project will be used to purchase books for needy children. (Photo provided)
In addition to t-shirts, the company’s Bands for Books project sells wrist bands that are similar to the Live Strong bands that benefit cancer patients. They can be purchased on Servonta.com. Some proceeds from Bands for Books are dedicated to purchasing books, which United Way of the Bluegrass will distribute to children across the region.
For Beatty, the name Servonta is symbolic.