HR County Education Foundation ‘alive and well’

News of anything that includes the words “money” and “education” has been nothing but doom and gloom of late. But there is one bright spot, and it can be found right here in Hood River: the Hood River County Education Foundation.

The private foundation, which is entering its 11th year, is poised to give away 37 scholarships for next school year totaling more than $40,000. Most are for Hood River County high school seniors entering college in the fall. A few are for current college students to help them continue their education.

“We’re the largest scholarship contributor of any entity in the county,” said Mike Schend, who has been president of the foundation for six years. “And it’s really growing fast.”

The idea for the foundation came from Schend, who is also director of the Hood River County Community Education Department, and some other local visionaries who saw some of the state’s larger school districts having success with foundations.

A small fund was established with a few thousand dollars which, according to Schend, “floundered for years.”

“We were doing bake sales and selling tickets as fundraisers for the foundation,” Schend recalled. A few paltry scholarships were awarded each year.

Then in the late 1990s, Athalie Lage of the Lage orcharding family gave the foundation a substantial donation to be used as needed.

“She just came up with it out of the blue and shocked the heck out of us,” Schend said. “She liked what we were doing and told us to use the money for what we needed.” The money allowed Schend to promote the foundation more widely, and helped establish a more viable funding base.

“It really gave us the start we needed,” Schend said. Since then, the foundation has grown to more than $700,000, including 18 different scholarship accounts, with several scholarships given out from each one.

There are about a half-dozen new scholarship funds set up each year, according to Schend. Many of the funds are set up by families as a way to memorialize a loved one. But some have been established by “people who are alive and well and just believe in helping kids,” Schend said.

The Hood River County Education Foundation is not affiliated with the Hood River County School District.

“It’s a private foundation, it has its own non-profit status,” he said. “It never passes through any school district budget.” In addition, overhead costs are minimal with Schend heading the foundation from his office in the Community Ed department. All funds are invested with Edward Jones.

A volunteer board of 14 community members screens scholarship applications each spring. The foundation produces a CD every year with information about all of the scholarships available through the foundation, including specific criteria for applying. The CD is made available to students at Hood River Valley High School and Cascade Locks School each fall. Scholarships, which range from $250 to $1,500, are awarded at a special evening ceremony in May.

According to Schend, students who get scholarships through the foundation are required to send the foundation a receipt from fall registration at their college before they get the money.

In addition to college scholarships, the foundation also awards grants to district teachers for specific projects that fall outside regular school funding. Last year, the foundation had about 30 applications for teacher grants. With the pending school budget crisis, Schend foresees the number of those applications going way up.

“It’s going to put more burden on the fund than ever,” he said.

But with a little luck — and generosity from community members — the foundation will continue to grow and be a viable means of supplementing school funding and helping local kids go to college.

“We feel there is no end to this — and no limit,” Schend said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re really appreciative. And it’s our kids who reap the rewards.”

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