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Fundraising for Technology Programs

by Val Stewart, former Executive Director, The District 205 Foundation, Elmhurst

York Community High School, Joe Newton 5K RunIn times of fiscal belt-tightening, when schools all across America are faced with tax caps, failed referenda, growing enrollments and aging buildings, finding funds for technology-rich projects like the York Creativity and Broadcast Communications Centers might be the biggest challenge of all. Computers, audio/video mixers, editing systems and camcorders are often the first items cut from a strained district budget.

In an effort to provide funding for such innovative projects, local citizens, parents and top administrators from District 205 in Elmhurst joined forces in 1988 to establish a not-for-profit educational foundation that could provide funds outside the regular district budget. The District 205 Foundation for Educational Excellence was born out of a desire to offer teachers and students an opportunity to try new ideas that would enrich the education of the district's students.

"We wanted anyone in the district, but especially teachers, to have a source for funds," said Jan Dondlinger, current chairperson for the Foundation. "Our hope was to encourage creativity and teaching excellence and to not have them worry about where they would get the money to pay for their great ideas."

corporate sponsors, District 205, Elmhurst, ILDistrict 205 was one of the first in Illinois to establish a foundation. Since its inception, the Foundation has provided over $300,000 to teachers, students, and volunteers at all of its twelve schools. Raising money through direct appeals, special events and unique fund raisers, the Foundation has become the life-blood for teachers in the district who want to provide their students with equipment or programs that add a special 'spark' to the regular curriculum.

"We wanted anyone in the district, but especially teachers, to have a source for funds," said Jan Dondlinger, current chairperson for the Foundation. "Our hope was to encourage creativity and teaching excellence and to not have them worry about where they would get the money to pay for their great ideas."

Fund raising methods
The Foundation's goals have gone through something of a roller coaster ride over eight years. When things were getting started, the expectations were grand, but initial direct mail appeals had disappointing results. As the years went by, Foundation directors learned that developing a variety of events and specialty items was critical, and that each must have a link to children and education and should elicit pride in our community.

For example, the York Community High School cross-country team has won 19 state championships, and our coach, Joe Newton, is one of the best known high school track and field coaches in the nation. Hence came the Joe Newton 5K Run for Education, held on Memorial Day each year. Corporate sponsors provide major funding and get their logo on our t-shirt. All in all, everybody wins: the community gets a great athletic event, the sponsors get a little free advertising, and the Foundation nets about $8,000 annually.

Though not unique to our Foundation, the $25,000 "Promise of Education" Scholarship Raffle puts a special spin on the traditional raffle idea. The prize is NOT cash, but a $25,000 scholarship in the form of a trust, to be paid directly to a college or technical training school of the winners' or their beneficiaries' choice. The last two raffles netted the Foundation over $20,000 in proceeds.

One of the Foundation's most successful specialty items, the "Landmarks Coverlet" is a cotton blanket or throw produced for us by a company in Pennsylvania. With over $12,000 in net proceeds, its success is attributable to the custom design woven into its top. Quite wisely, the Foundation's directors decided that in this instance it would put the emphasis not on schools, but on the community. They ruled out pictures of our twelve school buildings and instead depicted a dozen of Elmhurst's best-known landmarks. The coverlet therefore has had appeal to hundreds of purchasers in the community who have ties not only to our high school, but to our library, art museum, parks, veterans' memorial, and local historical museum. The coverlet has become a unique and very popular gift in Elmhurst!

Established criteria in awards
Once the money is raised, deciding who it should be given to is an important issue for the Foundation's board of directors. Following a prescribed granting procedure, the board generally awards between twenty and fifty individual grants annually, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $10,000. Creativity and innovation are valued and the equipment in the grant request must fit with and enhance the established curriculum. Generally speaking, the more students that benefit from the grant, the better, but the guidelines are such that grants have been awarded for anything from an individual student's photography essay to science equipment that benefited students district-wide. More than one hundred of District 205's outstanding educators have received Foundation grants over the years.

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In addition to its individual grants program, the Foundation has selected several bigger, longer-term projects to support. In 1997, the Foundation's board voted to support the York High School Creativity and Broadcast Communications Centers with a $30,000 grant, to be awarded over three years. In years past, the Foundation also supported the York Writing Center in a similar fashion and continues to support the district-wide, volunteer-staffed Publishing Center which turns student-written and illustrated manuscripts into bound books.

"The Creativity and Broadcast Communications Centers are the perfect projects for us," said Chuck Freiberger, Vice Chairperson of the Foundation. "The centralized location make the equipment available to any student in the school. Students studying in English, Business, Social Studies, and Broadcast Communications classes all use the center. They work together and learn from one another."

"We started out slowly and gained the Foundation's confidence in our project," Torney said. "We knew that the Creativity and Broadcast Communications Centers fit well with the Foundation's mission, so this year we appealed to them for a larger grant to be awarded over three years. The Foundation's volunteers and staff work very hard to raise that money and we really appreciate all the help they have given York High School and the other schools in our district."

As educational funding becomes tighter, the number of educational foundations will continue to grow. They can help fill the financial void that our fast-past expansion of classroom technology has created. They can also help restore programs, like art and music, that we have so often seen cut. Elementary and secondary foundations are fast becoming an important part of the American public education mix.

Val Stewart served as the Executive Director of the District 205 Foundation from 1993 to 1996. She is currently the Coordinator of Community Relations for Elmhurst Public Schools with liaison responsibilities to the Foundation.

Photos courtesy the District 205 Foundation, Elmhurst.