Supporting local schools for nearly a decade
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
It’s an old story that America’s public schools often struggle to find funding for all of the educational programs and experiences they want to provide students. Some schools struggle with just keeping the lights on and the doors open. And people have argued ad nauseum about where to place the blame for these disappointments. But every once in a while, you hear stories about organizations that decide to actually provide assistance rather than just more voices of derision. One such local organization is the Smyrna Education Foundation (SEF).
The SEF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 2010. Its mission is to promote public elementary and secondary education within the City of Smyrna, for attainment of higher academic achievement and for improved perception of public education through advocacy. Through local partnerships and its own fund-raising efforts, the SEF is able to provide grants to Smyrna schools each year for programs that range from installing more AED machines, to developing green space, to purchasing robotics kits for science classes, to funding summer reading and math curriculums. Since the SEF began, it has awarded more than $80,000 to Smyrna schools, furthering the education of more than 12,000 students. “We do have 12 schools that we support: Campbell High School, Campbell Middle School, Griffin Middle School, and the elementary schools and International Academy in Smyrna,” said SEF President Kathy Young. “This is the bulk of public education for the Smyrna community.”
According to the SEF, its purpose is to serve as an education advocate and provide a central voice for strategic engagement on issues that impact Smyrna schools. Its board members have continuous interaction with the local board of education and education leaders, and the SEF serves as a vehicle for individuals and businesses to support public education.
Young points out that the SEF doesn’t compete with the schools when it comes to fund-raising. Instead, the organization works directly with the schools to find out their needs, and it even connects donors directly with the schools when possible. “For example, if there was a business or individual who reached out to us and said, ‘I’d like to give you some money.’ We would say that’s awesome, but we would also say we encourage you to reach out to your elementary, middle, and high school as well — whether that eventually leads to you making a financial donation to their foundation or their PTA or specific program, or if it just leads to a good relationship and awareness and maybe internships for students down the road,” she said. “And if you still want to give to an organization that then supports all of the schools, we’d be happy to be a partner.”
The Smyrna Education Foundation’s nine-person board is made up of community members, parents, and local business owners — all of them have a stake in seeing Smyrna’s schools succeed and grow. For her part, Young comes from a community and economic development consulting background. Among the foundation’s largest supporters over the years are JRM Management (event services), Georgia Power, and many local restaurants, including Atkins Park Tavern and Wade’s. “Atkins Park has actually been a supporter for many years,” Young said. “They host our annual principals reception. And they’ve helped a number of other ways — donating food, helping us promote [the SEF] by giving us opportunities with media, and other similar support efforts from them.”
Moreover, for the past few years, through an arrangement with JRM, the SEF has sold soft drinks at the annual Taste of Smyrna, which occurs on Saturday, September 14 this year. With the help of volunteers from Campbell High School during this food festival, the organization has been able to raise additional funds for its grants program and to expand its own profile within the Smyrna community. “We’re basically able to sell sodas and water at cost — and keep those proceeds — and sell ice to vendors,” Young said. “Of course, our board members are there on onsite as well. So it’s a great opportunity to not only raise money, but to spread awareness of our organization, and to give community members a chance to interact with Campbell High students. …[Attendees] often get to directly hear about [the students’] experiences in schools and their plans, and all the different skills that they’re learning and want to learn.”
If you’re interested in helping the founda- tion or in getting involved with your local school(s), Young said the SEF can assist. “If there’s folks saying ‘I want to help. I don’t really know-how. I don’t have a connection to a school. I don’t want to pick the school, but I have a team of five in my workplace and we want to go read,’ or something like that, we can help do that volunteer match,” she said.
“And come out and buy a soda from us [at The Taste of Smyrna]. That’s the easiest way to support us in the near future,” Young added.
Further, the organization currently is forming an advisory council, which would be another opportunity for volunteers. “The advisory council is a great place for folks who maybe have something they can bring to us that we need and would be great for them in terms of their engagement and to volunteer,” Young said. “To learn more about the SEF and to get involved, contact Kathy Young at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the foundation’s website at smyrnaeducationfoundation.org.