Nonprofit Helps Students to be Creative, Innovative and Excellent
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Fifteen years ago, the township was growing so fast that funding at the state level couldn’t keep up. Pam DeWeese, school board president at the time, met with teachers to ask what they could do to provide supplemental funds for the Avon schools so that beloved programs like music and art wouldn’t be cut. That’s when the Avon Education Foundation (AEF) was born. Initially, the focus was on teacher grants, and though teacher grants will never stop, through the years AEF began to focus on different areas.
“If a teacher sees a child who can’t afford supplies, that teacher will go out and buy them with their own money,” says Amanda Babinec, AEF executive director. “It’s my goal that no teacher spends a dime out of their own pocket for school supplies. We want teachers to know that they can turn to us if they have needs in their classroom.”
She notes that the mission of the AEF is to provide teachers with the tools they need to be successful so that students can be creative, innovative and excellent. That’s why in the basement of the administration building, AEF has a Supply Our Schools (SOS) store that is run by work-study special-needs students at the high school. These students need a safe place to learn how to be an employee, take direction and perform tasks.
Teachers can fill out an online form for the SOS store with items they need. It may be something for their classroom, or they may have noticed a student in their class who doesn’t have a backpack or school supplies. The teacher can request these items from the store, and they get delivered to the schools once per week, no questions asked.
“Fast forward to March 9, 2020, when the rug was pulled out from all of us with COVID-19,” says Babinec, noting that Avon schools were the first in the nation to shut down.
As the district shifted to online learning, Babinec saw that her own kids were struggling to learn at home since they didn’t have access to their school supplies. At the time, many people were not going out to shop due to the virus. Babinec was certain that other families were floundering, too, so she reached out to Dr. Maggie Hoernemann, the Avon superintendent of schools at the time, to suggest distributing the SOS items to those kids who were most in need.
The administration building was already doing a drive-through food distribution for kids on free or reduced lunch, serving 9,000 breakfasts and lunches each week. Babinec suggested that the AEF members get in the car distribution line and hand out pre-packaged school supplies.
“We flew through 100 bags in less than an hour,” Babinec says. “That was an aha moment.”
Recognizing the need in the community, the members handed out more supplies the following week, and from there the wheels started turning. Now, the Saturday before school starts, the AEF hosts Supply it Forward, which is open to those on free or reduced lunch, or anyone who needs a helping hand.
“I’m adamant that it’s an interactive shopping experience for the kids,” Babinec says. “It’s not us handing them a bag, hoping they like what’s in it. They get to come shop and make choices for the things they want.”
The Supply it Forward event includes a resource area that has representatives from Anthem Medicaid, Hope Healthcare Services and the local food pantry. In addition, the superintendent is on hand to answer any questions people may have.
Last year the AEF provided 50 teacher grants. Plus, they received grant funds from the United Way, enabling them to give the schools $30,000 to retrofit all of the drinking fountains to include water refill stations.
Throughout the year, the AEF hosts several fundraisers, including the much-loved Monte Carlo night, which they host each spring. Gentlemen over the age of 80 from the Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple get dressed up in casino costumes to run tables of blackjack, roulette, craps and poker.
“They are a hoot, and they’ll teach you how to play a game,” Babinec says. “Nobody has ever come to Monte Carlo night and not had a good time.”
They also partner with the local Kiwanis Club to host an annual golf outing in the fall – but there’s a twist. It’s at night, which is why it’s called Stars and Pars.
“The balls light up when you hit them and stay lit while you find your ball,” Babinec says.
On November 3, the AEF is hosting a breakfast at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds for the Avon business community as well as those in government positions.
“We’d like as many people to come as possible,” Babinec says. “We want to thank our sponsors like Chick-fil-A of Avon, Champion Chevrolet and Hendricks Regional Health. They are the best at giving their time, talent and treasures.”
In her pre-motherhood life, Babinec worked in marketing and event planning with Simon Property Group. When her kids were born she worked for the Avon Junior Athletic Association, but once childrearing got too busy, she stepped out of the working world for four years. During that time she ran for public office and won. She sits on the board for Washington Township and has loved getting to know members of the local fire departments and parks.
“If you want change and want to be part of the solution, you’ve got to raise your hand and do something,” Babinec says. “Besides, it’s important to teach our children to do something, and to volunteer not just for the fun parts, but also the behind-the-scenes stuff like setting up and cleaning up.”
When the opportunity came up for the AEF executive director position, it was the perfect fit for Babinec’s experience and passion.
“I love the continuing trend of giving back to the schools my kids go to and the community I live in,” says Babinec, whose children are now 15, 13 and 11. “If you want to have a pulse on what’s going on with our 12 schools, AEF is a beautiful way to get involved.”
The Avon Education Foundation funds the following programs within Avon High School each year:
Achieve 3000 Software
Students in English lab use the Achieve 3000 program to assist with improving their reading skills. This past year, 67% of the students in that class grew their Lexile scores 20 or more points. In addition to improving students’ reading levels, the program boosts student confidence. This confidence helps to spur their academic success in all content areas.
Evening of Excellence
The event is a beautiful evening celebrating the top 25 graduating seniors. Students receive a commemorative plate, and invite their parents and two teachers that have made an impact in their lives to a plated dinner event.
Guest speaker Keith Hawkins welcomes freshmen to the high school. Students get a chance to see the school before the first day, and are paired with mentors from the junior and senior class. Freshman orientation supports approximately 1,000 students.
The Avon Education Foundation is located at 7203 East U.S. Highway 36 in Avon. For more information, call 317-544-6090. To inquire about volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a donation, visit facebook.com/AvonEducationFoundation.