State

Oakdale school boosters ready to lead peers to success

OAKDALE -- The Oakdale Educational Foundation has raised and distributed more than $300,000 in classroom aid in six years.

That's quite a feat given these tough economic times, and the success has spurred the foundation to take their fund-raising efforts to the next level -- teaching other booster groups how to stage and maintain successful drives.

"When you think of Oakdale, we're just a little town and we're having this success," said Kim Whitemyer, the immediate past president of the Oakdale group. "Towns like Turlock and Modesto have a lot more people to draw from."

The organization's efforts not only in fund raising but also in their willingness to share their concepts with other groups earned it the California Teachers Association Gold Award. The honor goes each year to a single person or organization dedicated to promoting education in California, and the Oakdale Educational Foundation is the first group in Stanislaus County to receive the honor.

"I think we're risk-takers," said president Connie Friel. "We're trying new things, new slants on fund raising. It's not that we're just raising funds for kids, we're also creating entertainment choices for our supporters."

The early years of the fund-raising effort were filled with celebrity waiter dinners, which were well- received but labor-intensive for the financial return.

"We wanted to work smarter," Friel said. "Bringing in an entertainer doesn't take an army of volunteers."

This year's benefit concert and dance is set for Sept. 12 and will feature Slim Man, a popular smooth jazz band that has performed numerous times in the area.

"So often, organizations get caught up in just raising money," Friel said. "We want to do that, and it's still the bottom line, but we want our supporters to be excited about coming to an event."

All money raised goes directly into the classroom. Teachers and coaches submit requests to the foundation for materials, and more often than not the foundation is able to grant those requests.

This year, even if the foundation is successful in reaching its financial goals, it will not be able to fulfill the normal number of requests.

In past years, the school district matched donations, in essence doubling the amount of the grant.

This year, Friel said, the district does not have the resources to match incoming funds. But it hasn't stopped the foundation from fulfilling the wishes of several teachers.

Among other teaching materials the foundation has purchased was a computer program to help Oakdale High music students write music, materials to help Magnolia School with their Ag Day presentations, and a projector and a Smart Board (electronic chalkboard) for the Oakdale High football team.

"It's difficult to go into a classroom in Oakdale where there isn't some technology that the foundation has helped to provide," Whitemyer said. "Our foundation's success comes down to one thing -- having people dedicated to the children in our area."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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