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The Griffith Education Foundation is experiencing a revival of sorts with new people, new ideas and fundraisers that go beyond an annual spaghetti dinner.

“It started in August of 2018 when a bunch of us got letters from the superintendent asking us to come to a meeting to learn about the foundation,” new President Ryan Sutton said. “There was very little known about it at the time, about the money and how it was raised and how it was given out.”

The person who had been running it had moved away and about the only thing surviving was the spaghetti dinner, its lone fundraiser.

“When we went to that first meeting, there were no set goals of what they were trying to achieve,” Sutton said. “As we talked to the teachers, we found there was no plan of how to raise money except for the dinners. That had become kind of old-fashioned, and we thought we had to look at other options and get our name out there and get a little more exposure.”

Established in 1984, the foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that assists the school district but is not part of it or controlled by it, Treasurer Elizabeth Goral said. Its slogan is “Helping Panthers Roar Since 1984.”

“It’s one function is to promote educational excellence in the Griffith Public Schools,” Goral said. “It does this by providing funds for activities beyond the basic curriculum that are not normally funded through tax sources. In this way, it benefits the boys and girls of Griffith.”

A new board was formed as a result of the August meeting with Sutton as president, Brooke Sanders as vice president and Goral as treasurer. The secretary’s position is still open.

To get the word out that this was not the old Griffith Education Foundation, the group created a logo and a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/gpseducationalfoundation, which the group plans to use to publicize its activities and show where the money is going. Previously, Sutton said, the money was disbursed without public notice so no one knew how much was given or for what.

“For the first time ever, the board of directors went to the schools’ recognition night this year and handed out the checks,” he said. “We had an audit done, and we’ve got everything in line with our finances. There were a couple of hiccups with that, but it’s all straightened out now.

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“We went from no communication to very in-depth communication," Sutton said. "Even if we buy stamps, we say where the money is going. It is money the community, families, teachers and organizations donate to us, and we want there to be more communication and not just a ‘thank-you’ letter. The Facebook pictures show how the money is helping education and supporting the teachers to take education up a level.”

The foundation started with donations from several families in Griffith, Goral said. “Our main goal is to really promote the foundation and make people aware that it exists, particularly if people are looking for a worthy cause to donate or bequeath funds to," she added. 

“In previous years, the foundation gave away 12 scholarships in the amount of $1,500. That doesn’t go a long way for college anymore,” Goral said. “So, when the board reorganized, it was decided we would give out fewer  scholarships but the amounts would rise to $3,000 each. The foundation gave away $18,000 in scholarship money to six seniors this year.”

Interested seniors must submit an application and essay. The essays are reviewed by a committee, which includes teachers, to determine the winners. The scholarships were presented at the annual awards night.

Another $10,000 was awarded to Griffith Public Schools teachers for various projects, classroom equipment or class trips. One such trip sent fourth-graders at Beiriger Elementary School to Camp Tecumseh, a YMCA facility in Brookston, near Lafayette. The types and amounts of grants also are reviewed by a committee to ensure they meet the goals of the foundation.

”That is why it’s so important we generate income by either donors or fundraising on a regular basis,” Goral said. “This year the foundation was fortunate enough to be able to fund many of the teacher grant requests in full,” Goral said. “That might not always be the case, depending on what funds are available.”

Fundraising activities are still a work in progress and will be a big part of the foundation’s board meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 18 at the Griffith Middle School library, 600 N. Raymond St. One idea on the table is a wine and beer tasting event with raffle prizes and more. The meeting is open to the public.

“The wine and beer tasting event will also help the local restaurants and businesses and be something that will attract a different group (than the spaghetti dinners),” Sutton said. “We are looking for more folks to volunteer, and we hope that happens as we build the organization.”

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