Challenge Fund presents school board with annual grants check

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— The Steamboat Springs Challenge Fund presented its annual fundraising check to the Steamboat Springs School Board Nov. 11. Although the total dollars raised by the group were slightly down from a year ago, participation is up and the future fundraising goal is as high as ever.

Last year, the Challenge Fund netted nearly $52,000 for Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools. This year, the check totaled $42,250.

The money is used to fund grants, which teachers at the schools can apply for each year. In recent years, grant money has been used to purchase new iPads in classrooms, revamp the robotics team and book hands-on learning opportunities for students, like the Yampatika environmental learning program earlier this month.

Still, Challenge Fund member Monica Niedermeier said a future fundraising goal would be in the $100,000 range, and she hopes to see increased participation. Right now, roughly 25 percent of parents of elementary school children participate, she said.

“We’re still short compared to other places,” Niedermeier said, noting she has a friend involved with a similar group at a school outside Colorado who raises around $200,000 for her school. “We could always do more.”

Unlike the previous few years, the Challenge Fund will be doing a second round of granting. Niedermeier said Strawberry Park ended up with more grants, so the group decided to give teachers at Soda Creek a chance to write more grants. Those grants hopefully will be submitted by Dec. 2, she said.

The way the parents have collected money for the grants has evolved since the Challenge Fund was founded three years ago by parents of elementary students.

Getting away from the traditional cookie dough and gift wrapping fundraisers, the group decided to ask parents of students at the elementary schools to write checks, something Niedermeier said parents openly voiced they preferred.

Niedermeier said word-of-mouth and mailer notices help, but the Challenge Fund has gone for different approaches lately beyond just monetary donations. Local businesses can hang fund posters, and some Steamboat restaurants have donated a portion of nightly sales to support the cause.

Niedermeier is hoping participation and numbers grow. She eyes that future goal of six-figure dollars for teachers to use. But there is another goal in mind: 100 percent participation from students’ parents.

“We try to go above and beyond, so teachers can do programs they otherwise couldn’t,” Niedermeier said.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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