First ‘Reach for Excellence’ Gala: HR County Education Foundation raises over $40,000

WESTSIDE ukulele ensemble Ukestra, directed by Larry Wyatt, prepares to perform as Education Foundation Executive Director Laurie Stephens, right, introduces them at the Gorge Room.

Submitted photo
WESTSIDE ukulele ensemble Ukestra, directed by Larry Wyatt, prepares to perform as Education Foundation Executive Director Laurie Stephens, right, introduces them at the Gorge Room.

The Hood River County Education Foundation has declared its first-ever fundraising gala a success. Supporters from throughout the Gorge gathered Feb. 3 for a dinner and auction event at the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn. The foundation raised over $40,000 to support their Innovative Teaching Grants Program, which awards funds to teachers and staff who find better ways to teach, new subjects to explore and interesting experiments to try.


Becky Kopecky, with her husband, Jeff, at left, raises her bid paddle during live auction.

The gala showcased projects spanning from the arts to the sciences, all made possible with the help of programs established by the foundation. Entertainment featured activities funded in part by HRCEF: the Westside Elementary Ukestra (ukulele orchestra) and the Hood River Valley High School Chamber Singers. Additionally, an engineering lesson was provided by Kathryn Davis, a science teacher at HRVHS, and Daniella Valle, a junior at HRVHS. Davis and Valle presented an overview of the Family STEM Night they are hosting at local elementary schools with their 2017 Innovative Teaching Grant and then led an apropos activity where all the attendees built towers with dollar bills in a competition between tables.

With bid numbers in hand, attendees showed their support for the foundation during a live auction with auctioneer David Griffith of Griffith Motors. Donated auction items included stays at Whistler and Pacific City, various wine packages, a private cooking class with Lucia von Flotow, and more. The Slopeswell Party proved to be so popular amongst bidders that the donor was convinced by the crowd to offer a second party and was auctioned off twice.

The night ended with a paddle raise, with Griffith and Foundation Board Member Chrissy Reitz lyrically calling out bids and cajoling bidders to one-up each other. “The crowd was large, enthusiastic and very generous. The paddle raise at the end exceeded $16,000 by itself. What an effort. I have never been more proud to be a board a member,” said Mike Schend, a foundation board member since its beginning.

The event was made possible thanks to the sponsorship of Insitu, the Boeing Company, Cardinal Glass, Hood Tech Vision, Copper West Properties, Celilo Restaurant, Indian Creek Family Eye Care, INB, Doug’s Sports, Bruce Burton Dentistry, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, Columbia River Insurance, Hogg & Davis and Thread Creative.

The Hood River County Education Foundation enhances educational experiences for students in the Hood River County School District by providing financial support for programs, services, and scholarships. In 2017, the foundation distributed $81,500 in scholarship funds, and through the Opportunity Fund supported 178 low-income middle school students in participating in sports and activities. Innovative Teaching Grants totaling over $34,000 were awarded in 2018.

For more information, visit or contact Laurie Stephens at

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