Fairland school alumni and community stepped up in a big way at the Denim and Diamonds event raising $39,000 for the Fairland Public Schools Enrichment Foundation.
FAIRLAND – Almost daily the news is filled with more and more budget cuts to education and school districts, but the Fairland school alumni and community stepped up in a big way to help by raising $39,000 in the third annual Fairland Public Schools Enrichment Foundation's (FPSEF) Denim and Diamonds event.
The sold out event, with almost 200 people in attendance, spearheaded by FPSEF Board President Serena Wilson and many community volunteers is a grand effort to help Fairland teachers and students.
“We raised a total of $39,000, and $20,000 of this will go to support the teachers and students. So, some of that money goes to our endowment,” Wilson said. “We're trying to reach a goal so we can keep this foundation running long after we're gone. We have to have a base, so that's what we've been working on.”
Another big donation came from Sherry McCann, of Tulsa, a Fairland alumni, from an unexpected inheritance she received.
“She wasn't expecting it, and she gave $15,000 to us and $15,000 to the Fairland Band, and $15,00 to our Methodist Church,” Wilson said. “She did not have to give that to us, but she felt like that's what needed to be done.”
The Fairland Public Schools Enrichment Foundation, an established non-profit, was founded by Fairland alum George Weaver. The bylaws of the organization designate 40 percent of all donations to the foundation going to teachers and the remaining 60 percent to the endowment to perpetuate the funding source.
“I think it helped that it was our third event. I think we kind of got a little more bonafide.” Wilson said.“Once we reach our goal of $100,000, which I think we'll be able to reach by next year, we voted as a board to give 70 percent to the teachers next year. It's so exciting!”
One concern of the FPSEF board is about the loss of teachers to other more competitive states, a big concern of districts throughout Oklahoma, especially here in the northeast corner of the state, and the board wanted a way to show support to Fairland's schools and dedicated teachers.
“What I think is important is to make up for that, and not just throwing money at the problem, but also when you have a community event like this, and you have businesses show up and say I care, that means a lot,” Wilson said. “All of our board members suit up and show up, even though we all have full-time jobs and stuff, and always something else going on, but it just means a lot to us that our schools feel supported.”
Teachers will now apply for grants from the FPSEF by meeting certain criteria for education based projects awarded in October to use for the next school year.
“We organize it based on how many students are affected, how long the project will endure, and what impact the project will have for students, for the community for the future. For example, we did iPads for the library and we felt like that would affect a lot of students,” Wilson said. “Another grant was our special education class needed kinetic chairs. We look at all the criteria and most grants get accepted because the teachers put a lot of thought into these applications.”
Wilson said as funding has increased over the past three years it has allowed the teachers to be more innovative in their grant requests.
“I think we've seen a lot of good things come from this foundation,” she said.
Wilson said having the annual fundraiser at the Coleman was a big game changer too.
“Working with the Coleman was so easy too, Shannon Duhon was amazing, and he made it so easy and effortless,” she said.
The event is coordinated and pieced together all by volunteers and funded through community generosity, so every earned dollar goes back into the Fairland Schools Enrichment Foundation.
The event was decorated with flowers by Jason Miller, included a photo booth opportunity, silent auction, prizes and dinner games as well as dinner donated and prepared by Hudson Creek Baptist Church, Nowhere on Route 66 and The Cafe and by served by Fairland's FCCLA students.
“I think we spent as the foundation, maybe $250 on this whole event. Everything got donated,” Wilson said.“We had everything from fishing equipment, shave kits, Coach purses to trips to Branson.
Every dollar and donation counts and is much appreciated by the foundation, big and small, according to Wilson.
“Whenever I go to those things sometimes everything is kind of out of my price bracket so it's nice to have a variety so that everybody can feel like they can do something. Our biggest trip was to Colorado. Robert Goodwin is one of our aluminis and he is a fishing guide in Colorado. He donated a one of a kind trip for four days,” she said.
The high bid for the trip went up to $12,000 from Gordon Williams of Williams Construction.
“When I talked to him about it afterward he said he loves to go to these things, especially for Fairland Schools, because he got to roof Fairland School,” Wilson said. “He was the contractor for that and he feels like he gets to give back.”
Local, well-known philanthropist Gerry Williams also attended the event and helped keep the bidding going in goodhearted fun for the cause, according to Wilson.
“She's just such a good community supporter,” she said. “She's amazing. It was really neat to have her there. If there's kids involved she's there and she told me, 'Serena, it's the funnest way to shop.'”
Art created by Fairland Art teacher and her students was also placed for auction with proceeds going specifically back to support the art program.
“That's something we want to do more in the future. We want to be able to use our foundations more as conduit for people who have ideas or project,” Wilson said. “We would like to get a scholarship program going for students.”
Volunteers Terah Kennel and Teia Overacre-Williams helped decorate the venue and set the tone for the evening.
Wilson said she was moved by the outpouring from across the community and neighboring towns.
“We had people from Wyandotte, Grove, Miami, Fairland and we had everybody just come together,” Wilson said. “As president of the foundation I attend the other area events and donate, and I feel like it's important that we support each other.”
Plans are already underway for next year's Denim and Diamonds event to improve and build on the success.
“We're even thinking of doing a barn dance. We don't even know yet,” Wilson said. “But if we are going to have it at a formal location we would love to have it at the Coleman again because they were so good to us.”
Next year's event may have to be held elsewhere because of the overflow interest, according to Wilson.
Donations may still be made at the Fairland Public Schools Enrichment Foundation's website at fpsef.org, and Paypal and credit cards are accepted or the organization may be contacted on their Facebook page or donations can be mailed to FPSEF, P.O. Box 695, Fairland, OK. 74343. All donations are tax deductible.
“We're looking forward to next year already,” she said.“I just really want to thank everybody. It's amazing to me how may people from all over just came together. I think it was really fun too. People had a good time. We really did have a blast! If the heart is right, the time is right, the cause is right, people will show up and spend money.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.