MERCED COUNTY -- The Merced County Office of Education's recently formed foundation likely will focus on summer performing arts programs for students, said Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools.
The arts are great to concentrate on, Gomes said, especially since many financially strapped school districts have a difficult time with arts education and not much takes place in the summer.
He said dozens of people have lavished praise on this summer's theatrical production of "The Hobbit," an effort underwritten by the foundation.
Among the things the foundation might do, Gomes said, is assist with transportation for a future agriculture demonstration day at the Merced County Fairgrounds.
This summer the foundation helped with the arts program and sent 40 foster care students to outdoor education experiences at Camp Green Meadows near Fish Camp.
"The foundation would like to expand opportunities for the arts, especially in summertime," Gomes said. "Especially at the kindergarten through eighth-grade level, many school districts don't have the time or funds for arts education."
Foundation board member Rhonda Walton said the group's philanthropic efforts will start small and grow. She hopes the foundation's efforts can be expanded and will supplement ever-scarcer regular school funding.
Walton, a retired county Human Services Agency director, said these are severe economic times and it will be a long while before things get better. She is hoping the foundation's efforts will round out education for local youth.
Atwater Mayor Joan Faul also is a foundation board member. She believes if Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax initiative doesn't pass, schools will need more money for things they won't be able to afford.
"I think it's (foundation) a wonderful idea," Faul said. "This will cover areas that normal funding wouldn't cover. I support it; it's a real asset for the community."
Faul also would like to see the foundation be able to help the Challenger Learning Center's summer science camps.
Foundation board member Steve Tinetti said the foundation is a worthwhile effort and a great way for private sector entities to get involved in education, helping schools do things they aren't able to do now.
Board members at their July 25 meeting designated Gomes to conduct foundation business. He said the foundation provides a non-profit venue into which many private organizations can funnel grants.
Several foundations that supported the METV television network and outdoor education have been rolled into the overall foundation program. This centralized effort in educational fund-raising will increase accountability, Gomes said.
He said anyone who is interested in joining the foundation may call Lee Lor at (209) 381-6601 for more information.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.