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BRIGHTER FUTURES

music and PE reap benefits as education launches first-ever direct request for funding

November 16, 2005

“A fat bass drum, four bright copper timpani, and a tall, elegant set of chimes are new inhabitants in the music room at Hood River Valley High School (HRVHS).

“They are expensive pieces of equipment that are hard to budget for that needed to be replaced,” said Mark Steighner, vocal and instrumental director for HRVHS. “We’ve never had chimes, ever,” he said.

But with a recent effort by a local fund-raising organization, HRVHS and other schools around the county are likely to see more of such upgrades in arts programs, sports, academic enrichment, extracurricular activities and other programs that are difficult to pay for out of the normal school budget.

In early October, the Hood River County Education Foundation (HRCEF) sent out a direct request for funding in a mailing to 11,000 households. Local resident and donor George Selfridge funded the “Bright Futures” campaign, and Pageworks Design Inc. donated the cost of layout.

The mailing included a letter, in Spanish and English, outlining the goals of the foundation, a summary of the 2004 annual report and a contribution envelope. The fund-raising project, which has been almost one year in the planning, is a first for the foundation, according to Pat Evenson-Brady, superintendent of Hood River County Schools.

“We had never just asked people to give us money. It seemed like a worthwhile cause,” she said.

Founded in 1992, HRCEF is a nonprofit corporation that helps raise money to support county schools. In the past, the foundation has received its money exclusively from two sources: bequests in local residents’ wills and the annual Oregon Trail Band concert.

“That’s been it. That’s been the whole fund-raising plan for the foundation,” said Evenson-Brady.

Last year the foundation received more than $400,000 in donations from estates. Historically, the money has gone to post-secondary education scholarships for students and to special projects grants for teachers.

In 2004, 38 county students received scholarships managed by the foundation totaling $40,600, and 10 area teachers won grants totaling $5,873. “We probably have three-quarters of a million dollars in scholarship money that can only be used for that purpose,” said HRCEF president Mike Schend.

“Hood River Valley High School has had the largest per capita scholarship donation from the community for the entire state of Oregon,” said Evenson-Brady.

While student scholarships have been well funded, the Bright Futures campaign is an effort to broaden the reach of the foundation. As outlined in the mailing, the foundation has added a “contribution menu” so that donors can earmark their money for particular use.

In addition to teacher grants and student scholarships, choices include academic enrichment, the arts, sports, extracurricular activities and area of greatest need for the year. “(Donors) can tell us where they want the money to go and we will abide by that,” said Schend.

“This is just a way for folks to support some programs they think need support,” said Evenson-Brady.

The new fund-raising effort is also intended to help shelter the school district from economic hard times, like those that hit schools across the state in 2003, following the recession. Evenson-Brady said Hood River County, which serves about 4,000 students, did not feel the pinch in the 2003-04 school year because it had reserve funds to spend.

Last year, the district was not so lucky. “We ended up cutting a total, in 2004-05, of $1.3 million from the budget, “she said.

The county reduced all music and PE positions in the elementary schools, reduced teaching staff at the middle schools and high school, unfunded six high school sports and all middle school sports. “It was a very difficult year for our teachers. They did a very good job trying to make everything work,” she said. Almost all of that funding has returned to the district this school year, thanks to a local option levy passed last November.

The idea for the Bright Futures campaign was born during those tough times in 2004. Hood River County School Board Chair Jan Veldhuisen Virk started calling other districts to find out if they had been able to keep their PE and music programs. She discovered that many schools were funding those programs through their education foundations.

“So we asked ourselves, ‘Is there a way to gather donations that would go to items other than scholarship grants?’” said Evenson- Brady.

“We were ignoring the obvious,” which was just asking people for money, said Schend,.

Evenson-Brady said the current foundation fund-raiser could serve as a cushion during tough times and also creates the possibility of expanding programs in the system. “It allows us to think about things that we could not afford otherwise,” she said. For example, the county has never had an elementary school art teacher.

Sitting in the HRVHS music room, Mark Steighner attested to the benefit of economic support focused on a particular program. “I think it’s a good idea,” said Steighner of the Bright Futures campaign. “Everyone has their preference that they really want to support.”

The money for HRVHS’s new instruments came from a $100,000 endowment from the estate of Larry Haney in 2004.

“Larry was always very supportive of the kids,” said Steighner.

The money will be split between the music and drama departments and, according to Steighner, will only be invested in items that will have a long-term benefit for students. The new bass drum, for example, replaced one that had been at the school for 20 or 30 years.

“We are only spending money on things that will benefit kids for a long time. (Haney’s) intention was to support our programs. To me, that seems like the best way to support the programs,” said Steighner.

Steighner said he is working against the perception that, with the Haney endowment, HRVHS music and drama programs don’t need any more funding. But none of that money will go to cover regular operating costs, like sheet music and general repairs, so the school still has a need.

“The money would be spent very quickly if we used it for those sorts of things,” he said.

As for the Bright Futures campaign, money started to come in almost immediately following the mailing, but organizers still don’t know what kind of response they will get. “We don’t know. The foundation has never made this sort of direct appeal,” said Evenson-Brady.

Schend hopes the philanthropic-minded will react soon. “We are hoping they will do it quickly or they will forget,” he said. “Time is of the essence here.”

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If you did not receive the mailing or misplaced it, call 386-2055 or stop by the Hood River County Schools administrative office to pick up donation information. And if you miss the mailing, organizers say any time is a good time to donate to the foundation. “The need is year-round,” said Evenson-Brady.

*****

The Hood River County Education Foundation (HRCEF) mailed out packets in early October in a first-ever direct request for donations. The gold envelopes were sent to 11,000 homes in the county. The money will be used to broaden the mission of the HRCEF, which raises money to help local schools.

If you lost your packet and would like more information about the program, call (541) 386-2055 or go to www.hrcef.org

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