Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 4:31 am | Mostly Cloudy 51º


The Teacher’s Fund Plays a Vital Role in Santa Barbara Schools, Classrooms

13-year-old organization has donated over $1.3 million to supply teachers with tools, materials to assist students

Village Properties co-founders and partners Reneé Grubb and Ed Edick were inspired to start The Teacher’s Fund after a colleague received a letter from her son’s kindergarten teacher requesting supplies the child would need for class. If the parent could not afford to help, the teacher said she would buy the materials herself. “We started talking and asked, ‘Why don’t we fund the classroom?’” Grubb recalls.
“It all kind of fell into the right place.” Click to view larger
Village Properties co-founders and partners Reneé Grubb and Ed Edick were inspired to start The Teacher’s Fund after a colleague received a letter from her son’s kindergarten teacher requesting supplies the child would need for class. If the parent could not afford to help, the teacher said she would buy the materials herself. “We started talking and asked, ‘Why don’t we fund the classroom?’” Grubb recalls. “It all kind of fell into the right place.” (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series. Click here for the second story, and click here for the third.]

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” said Arthur Ashe, the late tennis champion and humanitarian. That’s what Santa Barbara’s Teacher’s Fund has been doing since its founding in 2002.

Putting the fund’s own motto into practice — “One classroom at a time” — a small committee meets monthly to consider grant requests from local teachers at both public and private schools.

With minimal red tape the panel says either yes or no, and the answer usually is yes.

“It never ceases to amaze me,” said Tricia Price, principal and superintendent at Cold Spring School, who serves on the grant committee.

“Even if it’s partial funding, we find a way, or we might ask if they’re able to find a less expensive version of the product (being requested) elsewhere and ask again.”

The Teacher’s Fund gets as many as 50 requests a month during the school year, which collectively are seeking as much as $25,000 to $30,000. Individual grants might range from $100 to $2,000, but they are typically for $450 to $500.

“If someone makes a request today, the longest they’re going to wait is a month to get an answer,” said Ed Edick, one of the fund’s founders.

The application is a simple form that is available at The Teacher’s Fund website.

Local teachers are thrilled not only by the financial help, but by the speed with which they receive it.

Art teacher Laura Denny has received so many grants for her students at Adelante and Santa Barbara charter schools that she has lost track of the details.

“This goes back well over 13 years,” she said. “We’re talking thousands of dollars here.

“I pretty much apply once a month. Sometimes I feel greedy ... (but) I want the kids to have really quality materials. That’s really critical” to engage them in art education.

Reneé Grubb, the fund’s other co-founder, emphasizes that there is no barrier to repeat funding. The committee evaluates each request on its merits.

​Grubb and Edick started the Village Properties real estate firm in 1996, and established the Village Properties Teacher’s Fund in 2002. Since then, the fund has contributed more than $1.3 million to buy everything from pencils and paper to books to technology to theatrical costumes for local classes.

Along the way it has received financial help from other donors, and now the nonprofit organization has changed its name to simply “The Teacher’s Fund” as a way of encouraging even more contributors to get on board.

Despite removing its name from the 501(c)3 organization, Village Properties continues to pay all of the fund’s operating expenses so that 100 percent of every dollar donated goes to local classrooms.

The company’s own financial commitment to start the fund began at $25,000 per year, and the amount has grown to between $95,000 and $120,000 annually, which includes contributions from the company’s agents.

​Grubb and Edick, the two broker-partners, have clear memories of starting the fund in 2002.

“When our doors first opened, right away we started getting requests to sponsor this, sponsor that,” Grubb said. “We thought, ‘We will, as soon as we’re in the black,’ and we did.”

In 2002, while working with a public relations consultant, they realized that their firm was making a lot of charitable contributions but the partners weren’t really conscious of the total, which their accountant said was more than $25,000.

Through discussions and a review of the requests they had been receiving, they decided that schools would be their primary focus even as they continued to support other requests.

Grubb recalled that the inspiration came from a letter a colleague had received from her son’s kindergarten teacher, listing supplies her son would need for the year. If the parent couldn’t afford it, the teacher would pay for the supplies herself.

The timing also corresponded with major reductions in state funding for schools in 2002, making the need even more stark.

“We started talking and brainstorming and asked, ‘Why don’t we fund the classroom?’” Grubb recalled.

“It all kind of fell into the right place, and we just felt really good about it. I know we funded the entire $25,000 that year, but a lot of teachers didn’t know about us yet.”

That led to a decision to inform the principals of all public and private elementary schools on the South Coast.

After a couple of years, the Teacher’s Fund picked up major support from the Orfalea Foundation, which provided grants so the fund could expand beyond serving kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms on the South Coast, where Village Properties does its business, to serving K-12 students throughout Santa Barbara county.

“For a good five years, they helped fund it, especially the North County,” Grubb said. “We obviously got stronger, we had some fundraisers. They were an amazing partner for those years.”

However, about the time the Orfalea funding expired, the Great Recession of 2008 began.

“We had to cut back on North County funding, and we felt so bad for them,” Gubb said. “Everything they asked for was so thoughtful, but we had to pull back somewhere.

“Our agents knew we had this loss, so they kind of picked up the slack. It was amazing. They see the advantage we have out there because of our community involvement, and they love the Teacher’s Fund,” she said.

The fund now provides grants to K-12 classrooms as far north as the Santa Ynez Valley and is trying to find enough funding to serve the entire county again.

One part of the effort is the annual Teacher’s Fund Golf Tournament, which was held at Glen Annie Golf Club in October. Staging the tournament costs nearly $25,000, which is paid by Village Properties so all the money raised was donated to the Teacher’s Fund.

The tournament received major support from Cox Media, Prospect MortgageUnion Bank and Montecito Bank & Trust, as well as from MarBorg Industries, Movegreen, Heritage Oaks Bank, Haaland Diving Inc., Chicago and Fidelity title companies, and WFG National Title Co.

With some luck and new community support, the Teacher’s Fund will be able to serve the North County as well as the South Coast. Meanwhile, it continues to help as many teachers as possible.

“The more money and the quicker we can get the resources into the classroom, the better,” Edick said.

He and Price said changes in education are reflected in trends among the grant applications.

“At the beginning of my tenure (on the grant committee) ... the most popular request was an area rug” used by teachers to gather small children in a circle on the floor, Price said.

“Then it was document cameras (for overhead projecting), then iPads and now, interestingly, though we still get some requests for iPads and Chromebooks, it’s books for classroom libraries,” Price added.

The importance of having current nonfiction books that are appropriate for each grade level has grown, she noted, as California schools have shifted their curriculums to comply with the new Common Core State Standards.

“All of the books that we have are old, especially the nonfiction books,” said Linda Grand, librarian at Cleveland School. “Science books change, because science information changes.

“I ask (the Teacher’s Fund) for books once or twice a year, and they never say no. I’ve also received a computer.”

Edick recently reflected on the success of the Teacher’s Fund even as he considered the possibility of serving more children if more donors can be attracted.

“You can never tell where the path will take you when you set off on that journey,” he said.

Click here for more information about The Teacher’s Fund, or call 805.637.6816. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Dave Bemis can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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