Under the phrase “It Takes A Village,” our community’s children receive support from a wide variety of sources. This column will highlight the work of a few – the 544 Education Foundation, Fergus Falls Area Dollars for Scholars, Otters Elementary PTO, and the booster clubs. While we partner with each of these organizations, they are all managed independently through various boards and committees.
The 544 Education Foundation is a great place to start. It was founded in 2000. Their mission is to raise, invest and grant money through a charitable foundation to support educational programs. The 544 Education Foundation is a strong partner. This fall they funded twenty-seven grant requests totaling just under $37,000! They also provide scholarships to graduating seniors. They also fully funded 107 classroom wish list requests and nearly fully funded one additional request. That’s pretty remarkable!
The Foundation serves as a very valuable resource in keeping our alumni in touch with one another by posting class reunion information and planning all school reunion events. In addition, they honor Otter alumni each fall with their Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony. The Foundation’s executive director is Mindy Fuder and it is governed by a board of directors. In addition to donations, they conduct the Legends Golf Tournament and the taco-in-a-bag meal during Otter Pride Night which serve as annual fundraisers.
The Fergus Falls Area Dollars for Scholars was established in 1991. Their focus is on supporting students' post-secondary education by granting scholarships. The scholarships are distributed to Fergus Falls High School graduates as well as those graduating from Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. Since their inception, they have awarded over 1200 scholarships totalling nearly one million dollars! Carla Bjornlie is the Executive Director and its board of directors is composed of local community members. The scholarships are awarded each spring at a special recognition event.
The Otters Elementary PTO has been an ongoing support to McKinley School, Adams School and Cleveland School. The focus of PTO funds is to enhance literacy, provide experiences in the fine arts and promote STEAM activities within the schools. Through their generous support, we are able to continue to fund a special experience for each grade along with a K-4 event. This year, that event will be a performance by TheaterWorks USA, Junie B Jones’s Essential Survival Guide to School on April 27 at the KSS auditorium. Plans are in the works for the Kindergarten class to visit Otter Cove, a 1st grade field trip to Chahinkapa Zoo, and the 3rd graders to experience the planetarium at MSU-M during their study of planets in October. Fourth graders will have a residency experience in March with the Science Museum of Minnesota. We are still looking for opportunities for our 2nd graders and welcome suggestions and ideas.
It has also always been a goal for us to get a book in every child's hands each school year. Therefore, the PTO will continue to support the birthday books for kindergarten and One Book One School for Adams and Cleveland. They recently completed a fundraiser selling Stumbeano’s coffee. Their biggest fundraiser activity of the year is the annual Boosterthon Fun Run/Otter Dash which is held in the spring. Last year, the Boosterthon raised $36,970! This year’s theme is Grand Land Adventure! Students will visit different National Parks in the videos and learn about gratitude, bravery, stewardship, perseverance, and wonder!
Finally, there are many booster groups. Booster groups are designed to support specific activities. For example, we have very active booster clubs for our music program, along with many for our sporting activities. Their work heavily relies on the service of volunteers. They typically raise money through fundraising activities which could include working concessions at various sporting events, hosting tournaments and/or selling raffle tickets. Booster clubs elect officers and/or board members to govern the work of the organizations. Their efforts enhance the student experience by providing financial assistance with trips, purchasing equipment, and contributing to facility upgrades. One of the larger, more recent projects, was completed by the Backcourt Club. They raised money to build an outdoor basketball court near the playground at Kennedy Secondary School.
We continue to be very grateful for the contributions of each of these organizations. Each helps to provide a great experience for the children of our community and their work represents hundreds of hours of volunteerism annually. Thanks for all that you do!