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Filling the gaps: Parkrose Educational Foundation funds when money runs short


The PEF funded transportation for this recent 6th grade AVID field trip to Oregon State University.
Before this year's annual tournament, the Parkrose Unified Sports Team pose for a team picture sporting new team jerseys paid for by the PEF. The PUST is comprised of Life Skills for Adults at Parkrose students and partner students from the high school.
If you go:

WHO: Parkrose Educational Foundation
WHAT: Present their 10th Annual Dinner and Auction
WHEN: Saturday, April 27 from 5:30-9 p.m.
WHERE: Airport Holiday Inn, 8439 NE Columbia Blvd.
HOW: Admission: $50 admission includes appetizers, dinner, dessert, Champagne and fun
WHY: Because Parkrose kids need your help

Parkrose Educational Foundation Board
Darlene Vinson Curran, president
Vern Sundin, Jr., treasurer
Ruby Falbo, secretary
Karen Fischer Gray
Rod Martin
Londa Sundin
Sandra Searcy
Every school has a cheerleading team, and not the pom-pom pumping kind. Volunteer networks like the PTA and Boosters rally in support of the students when schools lack the means. Somewhat less recognized is the role that educational foundations play. Educational foundations are non-profit, volunteer organizations that raise and manage funds used specifically to supply students with educational resources not provided for by the school district's budget.

On April 27, the Parkrose Educational Foundation will hold its 10th annual auction fundraiser at the Airport Holiday Inn on Columbia Blvd, an event that raises the majority of the Foundation's $25,000 annual operating budget. For a $50 entrance fee, attendees wine and dine, bid on auction items, play a couple of inventive fundraising games, and all of the money raised remains in the purse of the PEF which the board members then distribute in grants to fund projects, materials or activities which meet the Foundation's mission to enhance the educational experience of Parkrose students.

The PEF board consists of nine chairs, two of which are currently vacant. Active members include Parkrose parents, alumni, and current and former Parkrose school district employees, but anyone committed to giving back to Parkrose children can apply for a board position.

The group meets monthly to review grant applications, and, come springtime, gear up for the coming auction. They also hold a summer 'retreat', which board chairperson Darlene Curran admits, “is not really a retreat, we come down here (the district office) for four hours on a Saturday morning once a year in July to plan for the next year.” They set the next year's budget at that time.

Curran, a 1969 Parkrose graduate thinks every Parkrose student deserves to have as rich an educational experience as she had. “Parkrose was and is a great school district. I think every student deserves to have the best possible experience. If what we do makes a positive difference in their lives, then we succeeded.”

The Foundation reviews three to five grant applications monthly. To apply for a grant, district employees complete a grant request form (found on the PEF website) outlining the project details, the number of students served and whether the employee has discussed the project with the school principal or sought the assistance of a parent group. They also ask how it relates to the school's improvement plan.

The board members then discuss whether the request fits their mission. (For example: an in-class pizza party does little to 'enrich educational opportunities,' however a field trip or creating a community garden may.) Sometimes they request more information from the applicant; sometimes they vote and write a check that night. Often they offer to match the funds raised by the students or parent group for the cause. “We don't want to be a source of money without them working for it too,” said board member Londa Sundin. That's a lesson the kids can use.

Recent grants have funded, either in part or whole, Outdoor School, the Asian American Leadership Conference, a drum set for the Jazz band, clarinet reeds for the middle school, and iPads for Life Skills students.

In addition, the Foundation offers two special grants annually. The $1000 Innovation Grant, first issued during the 2011-2012 school year, is awarded to the applicant who devises an inventive approach to connect with, encourage or inspire Parkrose students. Choir director Lesley Bossert won the premier Innovation Grant with her proposal to have a unique piece of music composed to suit the cadence of Parkrose student singers.

The $1000 senior scholarship is presented to a graduating senior applicant who demonstrates a commitment to the community through volunteerism and school/neighborhood involvement. The winner may use the scholarship at the accredited college of their choice.

Though the foundation designates funds for these special grants and a few other annual events or projected expenses, such as Outdoor School and the auction, they have decided against allocating funds categorically since the needs change every year.

“We really want the process to be driven by the folks in the schools,” said Curran, “let them figure out what they need most and then come to us for that.”

Curran issues a letter of congratulations with every grant awarded, which, as of this year, includes a request for feedback.

“60-90 days after their project we want to hear back from them, we want some pictures, we want to know how the event went, what the kids thought of it, and what they did with it,” she said. As of this printing, all of the grants issued with this stipulation have yet to meet their deadlines.

Parkrose School District's former business manager Jim Fenstermaker, teacher Mary Lu Baetkey, and Parkrose graduate and community member Earl DeKay formed the Parkrose Educational Foundation as a non-profit entity in 1994. Though new board members were recruited and fundraisers held, the foundation faltered at the end of the 90's. In 2003, alumni Nancy Murphy, parent Guy Crawford, Craig Jorgenson, who had worked in the district, and community member John DiPasquale revived the foundation, Baetkey and a number of other former board members returned and the group staged their inaugural auction fundraiser, which secured a stable funding stream from which the Foundation has thrived since.

This April's auction has a Denim and Diamonds theme, a nod to the two anniversaries celebrated by the event, the 10th Foundation auction and the 100th anniversary of the Parkrose School District, both of which, according to the annals of etiquette, demand the gifts of diamonds. Since the official color of a decade benchmark is blue (who knew?), the board decided to tandem denim with the gemstone.

“I like it because it kind-of tells you what to wear,” said Sundin, “We're not a community where everyone comes in your fancy gowns but I'm all about wearing denim.”

“I'm looking to see tiaras and jeans,” joked Curran.

The event kicks off with appetizers and Champagne during a silent auction, followed by dinner and a live auction. Auction items range from gift baskets compiled by classrooms to gift certificates donated by local businesses to vacation packages. Each year the foundation sends hundreds of letters to businesses across the region soliciting donations. Some of the prizes up for bid this year include hotel, lodge and cabin getaways, comedy club passes, gift certificates to Tad's Chicken & Dumplings, Sayler's Old Country Kitchen and Salty's and a package to the Portland Timbers.

The auction draws nearly 250 people annually and raises approximately $30,000 for its cause. Parkrose school district superintendent Karen Fischer Gray noted that the fundraiser for All Hands Raised, the Portland Public Schools Foundation, raises ten times the amount of money with ten times the amount of people plus the support of corporate sponsors like Intel or Nike, a ratio that proves Parkrose's commitment to their schools.

“We've been on hard economic times,” said Fisher Gray, “this has not been easy for the people of this school district and they have given everything that they had for Outdoor School; we had to drop that four years ago. It's a phenomenal community to come together and get that kind of money when we don't have it. For rich people to give money that is one thing but for people who are really having a hard time that is about heart and passion for the school district.”

Each year, the foundation singles out one program to spotlight as the auction's 'Special Appeal' bid. Past appeals have benefited technology, athletics and music, and have earned up to $10,000 for that program alone. This year the Foundation has chosen Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness program that uses motivational techniques to raise student performance. The district instituted the AVID program in the high and middle schools and now aims to implement it district-wide.

“It has a 30-year history of a very successful program taking students from families that have never gone to college before, your real 'C' and 'D' level student, they bring up and elevate into all advanced placement,” said Fisher-Gray. “We graduated our first AVID class last year and we had 100 percent graduation rate and 50 percent of those kids got full scholarships to go to college.”

Other auction activities include Heads and Tails, a 50/50 game where participants buy strings of Mardi Gras beads for $20 each and bet heads or tails on successive coin tosses that retire the beads of each lost bet until the last person standing wins. Last year's winner went home with nearly $1,000 from the game.

The evening rounds out with the ever-popular dessert dash. Through the course of the dinner, those seated around the same table pass around a table donation card. The table that collectively donates the most money wins the first selection from a variety of dessert delicacies that range in desirability from professional confections like Godiva cakes to Twinkies to the infamous 'kitty litter cake'. But the victor must act fast because the second place table receives their call within seconds of the first.

The auction raises the bulk of the Foundation's funds, but itself is an expensive affair, costing approximately one third of the funds raised there. To supplement their budget, the Foundation is also supported by individual donations and planned gifts. District employees may also opt to enroll in a payroll deduction plan to benefit the Foundation.

Board members discussed other fundraising options, specifically those that inspire more alumni participation, but with two seats still vacant, they hope some fresh faces may bring inspiration to the table. They specifically seek people committed to attend each meeting and those willing to assume leadership roles in the Foundation.

“We are just a bunch of people who want to give money to kids and doing it [sic] the best way we can,” said Sundin.

Those interested in learning more about any of these opportunities can find information and applications at
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