By Polly Keary, Editor
Editors Note: With this story, we continue our annual Featured Non-Profit series, in which each week through the holiday season we highlight the work of a local non-profit, including ways to help in this season of giving. We encourage support for these worthy charities.
The girl was one of the best students in her class, but as graduation drew closer, she still hadn’t gotten a card from the Monroe Public Schools Foundation telling her to come to scholarships awards night.
But in the last few days, someone in the community contacted the foundation and asked to give a scholarship for some deserving students who had not yet gotten any other awards.
“I was just lucky enough to be there when the student stopped in to the community center at the school and asked if there was any news and Mrs. Johnson told her that they had just gotten news that she should come to the awards night,” said Sue Skillen, executive director of the foundation. “And she was so excited. She wanted to know if she should bring her grandma from Eastern Washington. To see that reaction, that’s really great.”
The Monroe Public Schools Foundations funds about $10,000 in scholarships each year for Monroe kids, and administrates about $40,000 in scholarships from other people. But that is only one of the many services the foundation provides to students, and the list grows each year.
The foundation was created in 2006 under the direction of former school district administrator Marie Lotzgesell and with the help of some other prominent community members.
“The foundation came to be because of an obvious need in our community for support for public education,” said school district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil.
The first year, the foundation focused on creating and funding scholarships.
But soon after that, the mission grew. The foundation created grants to pay for extra training and education for staff members.
Also, the foundation set aside funds to help the families of students weather crises, such as house fires. School counselors know that if they learn of a family in crisis, they can alert the foundation to the situation.
“We have gift cards for food and clothing,” said Skillen. “If it’s a house fire we can get beds from thrift stores, that sort of thing. We have a relationship with St. Vincent de Paul, as well as Goodwill, and with laundromats. It’s constantly evolving.”
In order to help kids stay healthy, the foundation partners with people in the athletic community and sets aside some funds to help kids in low-income families pay activity fees for things like drama, sports and band, because kids who are able to do school activities about which they are passionate tend to be more engaged in education overall.
Recently, the foundation started putting together “curriculum bags” for all kids pre-registering for kindergarten, full of things they can start on over the summer to prepare them for school in the fall.
One project was initiated by a parent after the failure of the technology levy two years ago.
“The woman said, ‘Is there somewhere I can send my money? Because the kids still need this technology,'” said O’Neil. With the help of the parent, the foundation bought a rolling cart full of laptop computers that can transform any classroom into a computer lab. This year, the school is getting a second such cart, and the foundation is starting a STEM initiative, which emphasizes education in science, technology and math.
With a grant from the Greater Everett Community Foundation, this year the Monroe Public Schools Foundation will be able to offer low-income kids grants to take all-day instead of half-time kindergarten. Studies show that kids who get fulltime kindergarten have better educational outcomes in later years.
The foundation has fundraisers all year long, such as classic movie night at Galaxy Theater and an annual golf tournament, but the vast majority of funding comes from the school district employees through a payroll deduction program.
This year, the foundation will offer a similar donation opportunity to community members, too, through a program called “Gift 365 for Kids to Thrive,” in which donors can make a debit card donation of $5 or more per month.
“We’ll have an opportunity to provide a lot more enrichment,” said Skillen.
The benefit to students of the foundation has been immense, said district superintendent Ken Hoover.
“Our foundation is amazing,” said Hoover. “Their efforts help our community keep its commitment to provide each child an opportunity to be a strong citizen with an outstanding education, ready for college and/or a great career after graduation.”
The future is what it is all about, said Skillen.
“Our tagline is “Funding Futures,” said Skillen. “We’re not only helping their futures, we are helping our own. They are the next generation that will be in charge.”
To learn more and to make gifts, go to www.monroepef.org.