When Renee Grubb and Ed Edick founded Village Properties in 1996, Grubb says they knew they wanted to focus on supporting children and schools. They didn’t know that in six years’ time their efforts would culminate in a thriving nonprofit called Village Properties Teachers Fund.

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Renee Grubb

“We would donate $200 here, $500 there. There wasn’t any structure to it,” said Grubb, whose own daughters went to school locally.

Dawn Villone entered the scene in 2002 as a public relations specialist for Village Properties, and was eager to organize the company’s desire to support county schools.

“I met with (Villone) in September and her son had just started kindergarten,” Grubb said. “She had this long list of supplies she needed to buy for him, and she asked the teacher, ‘What do parents do who have three or four children at this school? Or parents who cannot afford this?”

The teacher’s response was shocking, but not unusual. “The teacher told (Villone), ‘All my children have the same. If someone can’t bring in supplies, I buy it for them,’” Grubb said.

At that point, the pair knew where funds needed to be: in the classroom. They met with Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, a former school teacher, to talk about the logistics.

“(Blum) was funny. She said you don’t want to give it to the supervisors; you don’t want to give it to the top because by the time it trickles down it won’t get to where you want it to,” Grubb said.

In an effort to offset drastic budget cuts continually diminishing funds to California schools, the Teachers Fund avoids any administrative middleman and initiates partnerships directly with teachers.

As of January, the Teachers Fund has awarded more 1,200 classrooms, totaling $513,397.

The Teachers Fund has a decision-making body made up of Grubb, Edick, Villone, manager of Village Properties Zena Drewisch and Catherine Brozowski, vice president of the Orfalea Fund.

The committee meets once a month to look over grant requests by local teachers, and is usually able to meet almost every need. Last week’s meeting awarded 39 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade classrooms financial aid, totaling $22,397. 

“I can’t tell you how many of those learning rugs we’ve bought, it’s either the A-B-C rug or the 1-2-3 rug or the animals,” Grubb said.

As a celebration for teachers, Village Properties hosts an annual kickoff event. The first kickoff was at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort in 2002, mainly to inform teachers of what the Teachers Fund was aiming to do.

“It was interesting because a lot of the teachers would call to RSVP and they would say, ‘What’s the catch? Do we have to buy a house?’ They had no idea what we were doing,” Grubb said. 

Since then, the kickoff has taken on a life of its own, featuring wine, hors d’oeuvres and a lively raffle emceed by Larry “Mr. Santa Barbara” Crandell. This year’s event will be held at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on Oct 8.

“Traditionally, teachers spend money of their own to fill some of the shortages in funding,” Crandell said. “Village Properties for the past six years has helped replace hundreds of such gifts with fundraising.”

About three years ago, the Teachers Fund started a valuable partnership with the Orfalea Fund, a Santa Barbara-based support foundation largely focused on education. The fund provides substantial support and is represented at the committee’s monthly meetings.

“It’s disappointing there aren’t sufficient resources for teachers,” Brozowski said. “This is a great partnership to be able to reach out and provide those resources.”

Since the Orfalea Fund has joined with the Teachers Fund, the group has expanded to funding seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, and the program has extended to a countywide scope.

Grubb says there are plans to expand to high school classrooms.

The Teachers Fund doesn’t traditionally fund temporary activities such as field trips. They focus more on long-lasting resources such as workbooks, globes and playground equipment. Requests range in value from $75 to thousands.

“It’s pretty amazing how many reading books aren’t provided to (teachers),” Grubb said. “We have a lot of requests for school books, and anything having to do with software. We provide a lot of laptops for teachers, too.”

On a volunteer basis, some agents at Village Properties have agreed to donate a certain percentage of every commission on closed escrows to the Teachers Fund. Others simply write checks as they feel necessary.

“We were sharing in an office meeting that Franklin School’s sixth-grade eating area was in such terrible shape,” Grubb said.

“They wanted to revamp it and put new benches in and maybe some potted plants to make it a little special, and it was going to cost them $2,000. One of our agents just wrote a check and did it. It just hit her in the right spot.” 

Other fundraising efforts such as the Santa Barbara Triathlon have helped raise thousands of dollars, all of which go directly into the Teachers Fund. Village Properties sponsored this year’s triathlon, which has raised $39,050 to be split between Computers for Families and the Teachers Fund.

The Teachers Fund is a 100 percent pure nonprofit. All funds raised go directly to classrooms and all administrative work, including the kickoff, is funded by Village Properties.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at mhelmuth@noozhawk.com.