Leading Source

Does generosity dry up in a down economy, too?

Not necessarily, as I discovered while researching how  school fundraising and giving, in general, has been hit by the recession for May’s edition of ASBJ.

For days, I scoured search engines and subscription databases, expecting to find countless stories of districts abandoned, ignored, desperate to find donors willing to spare a dime and bolster their crippled budgets.

I found a few, like Beaverton High School in Oregon, where booster club president and long-time volunteer Marcia Loggins was at her wits end on where else to go and who else to turn to fund events and programs at the school.

“I know businesses are hurting and because there’s such competition for fewer dollars it’s like a frenzy,” Loggins told me. “It’s almost like people are running to doors saying, ‘Me first.’ Our poor little orthodonist probably supports everything in town.”

Loggins’ experience was certainly dire, but from what I could find, isolated. At my wits end and at the suggestion of my editor, I turned to one of the posterchilds of the depressed economy: Elkhart, Ind.

Pres. Obama had put the manufacturing town on the map, as he hosted a series of townhall  meetings across the country intended to create momentum toward his economic stimulus package.

With a decimated local economy, thanks to tanking RV sales (their big industry), and unemployment rates at 15 percent, surely, community generosity toward schools was scaling back in Elkhart. Nope.

Ellen Moore, the public relations and volunteer coordinator at Elkhart Community Schools, told me a movement began in 2001, just before the last recession, and has continued throughout this recession.

A confluence of key community leaders got together around the idea of increasing volunteerism in schools, even forming a non-profit and launching extensive outreach efforts.

“Our little catch phrase was 30 minutes once a week in a school,” Moore says. “We had a goal of finding 1,000 people that could give that 30 minutes to a child and in less than three years we hit that goal.”

The initiative was so successful, people wanted to do more and discovered the need was there.

“So then our goal became to meet the needs of each school,” Moore says. And that has continued in good economic times and bad.

Currently, about 2,300 people volunteer at Elkhart schools and Moore says they are far from done.

“This was never about kids who were failing, who were a problem, who nobody wanted to deal with,” she says. “It came from research that kids need adult figures in their life to succeed … and with the recession there is an increasing need for more people to show up and be an encouragement to kids.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 24th, 2009|Categories: NSBA Publications, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , , |

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