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Grant Me Strength

Author: Garth Bishop

Source: CityScene Magazine: Columbus Arts, Entertainment, and Style

What do hydroponic gardening, composting, waste reduction, video editing and mobile blackboard technology have in common? They’re all part of ongoing educational programs in Westerville City Schools, and they’ve all been supported by grants from the Westerville Education Foundation. The nonprofit, all-volunteer group provides funds outside traditional district budgets for worthwhile initiatives in the schools with grants of up to $1,000. The foundation typically awards about $5,000 per year and has given out about $118,500 over its two-decade existence, $30,000 of it over the last four years as efforts have ramped up. The foundation was formed in 1993.  Though its membership roster was short, what it lacked in manpower it made up for in dedication, says Dave Kotary, a foundation board member since 1994. “The reason for the success is the attitude,” Kotary says. “There’s an underlying sense of purpose at each meeting, but there’s an overlying sense of fun.” Board members come from all walks of life and rarely leave, Kotary says. All members are volunteers. “A lot of organizations have a paid executive director,” says board President Jeff Tubaugh. “We have no paid employees.” The foundation recently underwent some significant structural changes aimed at raising more money to give out more grants. After a retreat last year, the board was reorganized into a set of committees intended to increase members’ participation. Each of the 26 board members must serve on at least one committee. The new committees are Marketing, which focuses on branding and awareness; Development, which is focused on corporate and individual solicitation; Grants, which is revamping the foundation’s grant process and also seeking grants from other organizations; Finance, which deals with budgeting and keeps financial records; and Events, which is responsible for such annual foundation events as the Community Bowl-a-thon each February and the Community Mini Golf Outing each May, as well as public appearances such as those at OhioHealth 4th Fridays in Uptown Westerville. Among the major changes is a switch in the foundation’s main method of fundraising away from events. They will continue, but the goal is to use a capital campaign as the primary means of fundraising – a cornerstone of the most successful such foundations, says Tubaugh. Work has already begun on the campaign. “We’re trying to do our homework on companies ahead of time,” he says. A new mission statement, logo, website and promotional video are also part of the revamp plans. The foundation solicits grant applications in March, usually receiving 20 to 30 per year. One program that received a $500 foundation grant is the Zero Waste at Home Plate initiative at Westerville North High School. The program, spearheaded by science teacher Lyndsey Manzo’s AP Environmental Science students, seeks to reduce and, eventually, eliminate trash from concessions at sports games. “You try to move as much material as possible to composting facilities or recycling facilities (as opposed to) landfills,” says class member Shane Coulter, a senior. It has first set its sight on baseball games. When North’s baseball season begins on April 2 with a game against Columbus’ Centennial High School, the class will send a handful of students to each game to promote the program. Some will stand by new containers for compostables and recyclables near existing trash cans, give directions as to which items go where and encourage attendees to use them. Each can will have graphics on it showing what can to put in it in case any are unattended. Other students will speak to fans in the stands about the initiative. “We’re going to make it as easy as possible,” says senior Jacob Dumford. If the program is successful at baseball games, the goal is for it to branch out to football and other sports. The students have also worked with the concessions crew to encourage them to buy cups, plates and other materials that can be recycled, and with Athletic Director Vicki Saunders to arrange for signage. They even wrote the grant that was sent to the foundation. The program was inspired by a similar program at Ohio State Buckeye football games. Another beneficiary of the foundation’s funding is the hydroponic gardening program at North, which received a $1,000 grant – along with four high-pressure sodium grow lights donated by the Westerville Division of Police – in 2007. Not only has the program educated students on hydroponic gardening and produced produce for local restaurants and charities, it has branched off into other endeavors, including composting, raised planting bed gardening, recycling and even sale of worm castings, worm excrement from the composting process that is useful as a soil amendment – all further educational opportunities. “That project is really the embodiment of what the foundation hopes to do with the funds it provides,” says Greg Viebranz, executive director of communications and technology for the school district and a member of the foundation’s Marketing Committee. Other foundation grants have gone toward such causes as: -Anti-bullying initiatives; -High school robotics programs; -Note-recording smart pens in special education classrooms so students can play back what the teacher is saying; -Video equipment and green screen technology for Genoa Middle School’s morning announcements; -Apple TV units that allow students to use an iPad carried around by the teacher to work problems on a projector screen without leaving their desks; and -Inflatable exercise balls to replace classroom chairs, which help students focus in class.

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