The Lawrence Township School Foundation is Making an Impact
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Sometimes the best advocate can be the one you don’t even know. Recently a customer was checking out at a local Walmart when they mentioned to the person scanning their items about EdEx. Short for Educators’ Exchange, EdEx is the Lawrence Township School Foundation’s (LTSF) free supply store that is stocked with office supplies, paper, books and craft items to use in classrooms. Staffed by volunteers and stocked with donations from the community, the purpose of EdEx is to supply teachers with free supplies that enrich the curriculum. It’s one of many programs that the foundation supports.
The Walmart employee shared the information with her supervisor, who was impressed with the work the foundation was doing and called Board President Barb Austin to encourage her to apply for a grant. Ultimately the store awarded the LTSF a $500 grant, to purchase supplies from Walmart for donation to their teacher exchange.
“That all came to be because someone in the community advocated for one of our programs,” Austin says. “We love to inspire that kind of action from the community.”
This is why this year, the foundation’s message is, “The power of you.”
Established in 1983, the LTSF serves the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township teachers and students. Every dollar raised is allocated to various programs to support the students and staff.
“It’s a unique relationship between the foundation and the school district, as we work hand in hand to identify those programs that are of greatest value to both our students and our staff in terms of pushing achievement forward,” Austin says.
The school district leaders indicate programs they need assistance with, and the foundation works closely with the superintendent and his administrative team in identifying those areas where the LTSF can make a meaningful impact.
The programs are balanced across all 21 buildings to include programs for elementary, middle and high school students, as well as faculty and staff.
“Where programs aren’t supported by tax dollars, that’s where we fill in,” says Taylor Williams, development associate.
“Our foundation’s hard work allows for our school community to provide additional resources to our students that go beyond local, state and federal funding,” adds Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith. “They support innovation for our district to be a ‘District of Destination.’”
The programs fall into one of four categories. These student-centric initiatives include Year 13 Prep; Hands-On Learning; Healthy Body, Healthy Mind; and Today and Tomorrow.
This help may come in the form of grants that assist teachers in their classrooms. It may be actual scholarships. It may be a way to give students the chance to go on a legacy field trip. For instance, Creative Impact Grants give teachers the opportunity to apply for funding that supports creative and innovative projects. Last year one of the grants that was fully funded by the LTSF was submitted by Lawrence Central’s performing arts department.
“It was a year of turmoil,” Austin says. “Students struggled with feelings of isolation as well as social emotional issues.”
Teachers recognized that student learning was being affected, and they needed an outlet for their pain, frustration and confusion. The performing arts department did a documentary that mainly followed show-choir students in the midst of preparations, as they grappled with the notion that despite the hours of rehearsals, they didn’t know whether they would be able to perform.
“It’s a beautiful documentary that allowed students to speak their minds and share their struggles,” Austin says. “It not only provided an outlet for them, but it also shared great insight as to what was in their heads and on their hearts.”
The foundation hosts three annual fundraising events, two of which are spring and fall golf outings. Funds raised go towards the Bridge Fund, which ensures that all students can participate in all school aspects without limitations, such as academics, athletics, extracurricular activities and special projects. In addition, each spring they host an event at the Crane Bay Event Center, which celebrates the impact of their donors and community members.
The school district’s tagline is, “Strong Schools, Strong Community.” It’s an adage they live by.
“There’s a saying, ‘It takes a village,’” Austin says. “In this case, it takes a community, and we are fortunate that the community rallies around the foundation. We want our donors to understand the impact they’re making. It’s significant, and recognized by the school and the staff.”
Lawrence Central alumnus Meghan Hughes says her schooling experience taught her much of what she still relies on now, nearly 40 years later.
“I learned how be part of a diverse community, and how to learn from my fellow students, musicians and athletes, as well as my teachers,” Hughes says. “Lawrence Central allowed me to grow and aim high for what comes after high school graduation. I believe all students deserve that. I admire the LTSF mission, and I hope my modest gift contributes to the vision.”
Neal Gore, school community liaison for Harrison Hill Elementary, maintains that the LTSF has been an outstanding community support.
“Thank you for all that you are doing to support our students and families,” Gore says of the LTSF.
Still, the LTSF leaders would love to double or triple their capacity in order to spring forward.
“We need to do more, and we are definitely positioned for growth,” says Austin, noting that it will take a combination of fundraising and community outreach to continue to grow.
One group that’s stepping forward is alumni, who are eager to show their support.
“We aren’t picky about how people want to get involved and assist,” Austin says. “Anyone who has a philanthropic approach can reach out.”