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Helping hands

foundation student

A beaming young lady puts away one of the calculators her school received as part of an algebra grant from the Education Foundation of Indian River County. EDUCATION FOUNDATION OF INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

Educational foundations quietly step up to fill the funding gap


Behind-the-scenes magic that can turn a student’s education from ordinary to excellent, and give their teachers help and recognition for the outstanding work they do to provide a good education. How does that happen in the constantly cash-strapped public school districts of the Treasure Coast?

Every school district receives money from the state and from property taxes to pay its teachers and staff, to maintain buildings, to construct new buildings, to buy textbooks and desks and much more.

But education is so much more than that. And there’s where nonprofit education foundations step in. Without them quietly working in the background, students who deserve scholarships may not get them. Teachers will continue to spend their own money to buy supplies for those who can’t afford to buy their own.

Without foundations, students who are struggling may not get the mentoring they need. Gardens won’t be grown to teach students about the food they eat and some students won’t compete in science fairs. Many preschoolers won’t be ready for kindergarten. And importantly, teachers and school staff won’t receive the annual acknowledgement for all they do.

The following is a brief look at four foundations, three serving kindergarten through 12th grades in their school districts and one serving Indian River State College students in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

The four foundations are the same in that they exist to enhance education by paying for the extras that can significantly increase the chances of student success, but from there on, they differ.


Executive Director Lisa Rhodes
1650 Kanner Highway, Suite 212, Stuart

Mission: The mission of the Education Foundation of Martin County is to enrich and enhance educational opportunities for all students and teachers, in the Martin County School District, through effective fundraising efforts, positive collaborative partnerships, innovative programming, and efficient allocation of resources.

Imagine opening the classroom door at Palm City Elementary and suddenly you’re magically transported to Hogwarts, the famed wizard school created by J.K. Rowling.

It happened to the delight of students who found themselves mixing potions in a punch bowl and playing out other intriguing scenarios. While it was all in good fun, there were serious lessons in science, technology, engineering and math involved.

“Our students were able to take part in four mini-Hogwarts classes: potions, magic, flying and herbology,” media specialist Leigh Anne Pike said. “Each featured a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) demo and career connection. And in physical education our students are playing Quidditch.”

An Education Foundation of Martin County grant made possible the Harry Potter-based lessons. This is just one example of the many innovative projects enabled by the foundation’s 15 or more grant and support programs. They include literacy, robotics, internships, classroom enrichment grants, intervention programs, scholarships, teacher recognition, applying algebra to real life work and many more.

The nonprofit foundation, created in 1991, is self-supported with its one full-time and one part-time employees being paid with funds from grants, private and corporate donors and fundraisers. About 75 volunteers assist throughout the school year, some for special events and others working longer term.

Last year, funding of about $750,000 was used to support the district’s public, charter and special program schools.

“A lot of times people think that they are paying school taxes and that should cover everything,” Executive Director Lisa Rhodes said. “But all the extras that enhance and enrich the learning and support the teachers with things like additional training, take private dollars and grants to fulfill.”

The district offers multiple ways donors can fund programs including a bulletin board set up by the foundation where teachers can post requests for help and donors can contact teachers directly about their plans and needs.


President Thom Jones
Fairlawn Magnet Elementary School
3203 Rhode Island Ave., Fort Pierce

Mission: To promote, encourage and recognize excellence in public education.

Walk into a C.A. Moore Elementary School classroom in Fort Pierce and you might see children wearing headphones, listening to a story as they turn the pages of colorful books.

The six headphones, a CD player and a tape player were funded by a grant from the nonprofit St. Lucie Education Foundation. The grant paid for the audio equipment for every kindergarten and second-grade classroom. Ilyse Brainin, a literacy and instructional coach for St. Lucie County public schools, came up with the idea.

The teachers reported that the kids loved listening and even enjoyed writing about what they heard, “and there were no groans,” a report said, when a child went to the listening center.

Such assistance would be very hard to come by without the county education foundation, said Thom Jones, the foundation’s president.

The foundation was created in 1990 by the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce and school district leaders. It was housed in school district offices to save money and its two employees, one full-time and one part-time, are paid by the school board. It operates independently of the board, choosing its own projects and raising money for them, Jones said.

“We are a direct-support organization,” he said, “which means we only support the public school district.”

Last year, the organization awarded about $72,000 in grants. Funding is greatly enhanced by the state’s matching grant program, which will match donor dollars in six categories, he said. Last year more than 60 scholarships were given out to graduating students.

mong the foundation’s many grant programs is one that encourages first-generation Americans to set their sights on post-secondary education through the STAR business mentor program. Through it, high school juniors and seniors, who may not be college bound, are encouraged to consider technical and career schools to prepare for entering the workforce.


Executive Director Cynthia Falardeau
2926 Piper Drive, Building 13, Vero Beach

Mission: The Education Foundation of Indian River County is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance our community’s investment in our schools with the goal of achieving excellence for students and educators.

The Education Foundation of Indian River County is unique in Florida for placing public and charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and home-schooled children under its support umbrella, Executive Director Cynthia Falardeau said.

Founded in 1991, its first project was the Indian River Science and Engineering Fair. The popular event continues and is considered the foundation’s signature program.

Since then the foundation, which operates with two full-time employees paid by the foundation, has grown to include projects involving about 500 volunteers a year. The programs include one that helps children receive vision screening and glasses; one that provides backpacks and supplies for about 2,000 children yearly; and a sneaker exchange, which has given out more than 20,000 pairs of shoes to students from kindergarten through 12th grade since 1993.

In December, the foundation announced it had awarded $30,000 to five schools for a wide variety of innovative projects.

Glendale Elementary, for example, received $9,499 to buy Google Expeditions virtual field trip viewers for 30 students. The viewers will help children who have trouble comprehending what they read about places they’ve never seen or experiences they’ve never had.

The foundation’s programs are funded by many businesses, organizations and private donors. In some cases, the foundation partners with other organizations or businesses to provide a service or materials.

But there’s more. The John’s Island Foundation gave $34,000 to purchase SMART tables for elementary students. These are large, screen-covered, touch-sensitive tables for groups of youngsters to work collaboratively.

About $1.4 million was given in scholarships and about $10,000 in cash and prizes at the last regional science and engineering fair in Indian River County, Falardeau said.

“Our biggest investment is the Step into Kindergarten program,” Falardeau said. The six-week program helps 4-year-olds prepare for kindergarten. And the district is anticipating even more students for the coming summer session.

Teachers also benefit from professional development programs funded by the foundation. For example, Algebra Counts 2 instructs teachers on how to make algebra relevant and exciting so that students can improve their math scores.


Executive Director Ann Decker
3209 Virginia Ave., Administration Building, Fort Pierce

Mission: Indian River State College Foundation Inc. is a Florida corporation not-for-profit, organized and operated exclusively to receive, hold, invest and administer property, and to make expenditures to, or for the benefit of, Indian River State College. To accomplish this, the foundation actively supports the long-range plan of Indian River State College by providing, but not limited to, scholarships, high-technology equipment, faculty chairs, support of capital projects, and improvements to further enhance student accessibility and improve the learning environment at IRSC.

“The work of the foundation makes the difference between mediocrity and excellence,” said Ann Decker, the foundation’s executive director.

Money raised by it helps two-year and four-year students achieve their goals, whether they are aiming for a technical career, professional career, or something in between. Getting them ready to enter the workforce and succeed is what the college and the foundation do.

But that’s not all. For those who are retired or nearing retirement, the foundation’s Lifelong Learning program offers minicourses covering a large range of topics.

The foundation also honors the area’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. This year, the recipient is Allen Osteen, CEO of East Coast Lumber and associate publisher and co-founder of Indian River Magazine.

The foundation is the lead agency on the Treasure Coast for the state Take Stock in Children program with four staff members who are paid by the state to help at-risk, low-income children make it to college. In many cases, the mentoring and assistance changes their lives. Student India White, for example, went from an abusive home life to homelessness to college and then to the teaching profession.

Unlike the kindergarten through 12th grade education foundations on the Treasure Coast, the 55-year-old Indian River State College Foundation focuses strictly on IRSC post-secondary education. The 16-member, full- and part-time staff is paid by a formula of percentages involving money from the foundation, the college and the state.

Last year, it gave out $3.1 million in scholarships to IRSC. The money came from gifts, and individuals.

“Every year the goal is to give more to students,” Decker said.

Foundation donations also help build and equip IRSC buildings such as the state-of-the-art Brown Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Treasure Coast Public Safety Building, which received $8.5 million from the foundation.