By Henry M. Holden
For the last 12 years, the Randolph Education Foundation (REF) has donated more than $300,000 to the Randolph Township School District in the form of grants, support to specific projects, and assistance to students. It was inspired by the idea that together, families, schools, and the local community, shape the education of its children.
Everything was going well, until March 2020, when everything came to a sudden stop. Covid (Corona virus) struck. The country (and the world) was enveloped in a pandemic. Businesses shut down, social distancing, masks, vaccinations, and state-wide lockdowns became the “new norm.”
“Our event was canceled due to Covid, bringing us no chance to raise money for the organization,” said Paola Heinke, president of REF.
The REF Committee realized that they would be out of business if they did not become innovative. Since 2010, the REF has organized the annual 5K Run (3.2 miles) to bring the community together to raise funds in support of its mission. “Our mission is to harness the power of the community, to create opportunities that inspire teachers to innovate, and enable students to thrive,” said Heinke.
“We had to get creative, and start thinking outside of the box,” said Lissa Alexander, Race Co-Director, and REF Board Member, along with Kelly Krauss, oversee the 5K run.
“This year we are doing something different,” said Alexander. “We are conducting a Virtual 5K run. Participants can sign up online and can-do peer-to-peer fundraising, for REF. The 5k run can be done at their convenience, any time between June 4, and June 14. We encourage people to run, walk or hike the event in hopes to encourage all levels of participants, including families!
“Our virtual race will be held over a period of 10 days so you can do it whenever you want, any day of the week, at any time. The participants also have the option if they can’t do the whole run in one day, they can do it in segments, a mile today and another mile or portion there of tomorrow. etc.
“People who finish the race will get a medal and we are leaving that up the honor system. We’re asking them to submit “finish the race” photos and judges will determine the best of the pictures in various categories.
In 2019, there were 308 participants in the race. “Given the Covid restrictions, we’re hoping to get at least 200, this year,” said Alexander.
“We are encouraging it to be a family event where everybody can do it rather than a competitive race. They can do it in their home, in their backyard, in the neighborhood, walking the Randolph trails, etc.”
There are numerous free GPS enabled apps that will help participants determine the distance they cover.
“We are truly grateful for all the committee members and volunteers who kindly contributed their time and talents for the 5K,” said Alexander. “Thank you to each of them. We really appreciate what they do.”
So far, REF has provided $120,000 in financial support to teachers and staff who are creating innovative programs in the classrooms, since 2013.
“The way we see it, we have three pillars of support,” said Heinke. “The first pillar is Innovation. The innovation applies to all students. We want them to try and experiment with new things. We want people not to be afraid of trying something. We teach if you have an idea give it a try and see if it works. That is good for all students and teachers regardless of their background.”
Since its inception in 2013, the Next Practices Grant Program (NPG) has supported more than a dozen projects all to enhance the student’s learning experience.
The NPG program funds up to $10,000 each year in fresh ideas proposed by teachers and staff members who want to explore nontraditional, innovative ways to teach and learn,” said Heinke. All the proposals undergo a thorough blind evaluation process by a Selection Committee appointed by the REF.
“The second pillar is the School Readiness Component which addresses students in need.
“We have several kinds of assistance. One of them is gift cards. I got a note from a single mom which still makes me tear up when I read it. She said if it wasn’t for the gift card, she would not have had any gifts to give to her girls on Christmas Day.”
“The Second Pair of Jeans program is a grassroots initiative that enables students with financial needs in our district to come to school ready to learn. Over the last 12 years we’ve provided more than $50,000 in gift cards to students in need during the holiday season.
“To date we have provided over $10,000 in scholarships for first-generation students.
“The third pillar is Community Building,” said Heinke. “In the past we had events that brought the community together. One was our Rock Star celebration, which we co-hosted it with the Randolph Rotary. We select a person of the year to be the Randolph Rock Star for that year. It honored educators of the year, and other community members who supported education in Randolph. This year we had to cancel that part of the program because of the Covid restrictions. We are hoping we can bring that part of the program back next year.”
“There is still time to sign up to be a sponsor. We understand that this past year has been financially difficult for many small businesses, and we have restructured our sponsorship tiers and hope that there is a level of support that works for you!”