Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Education Foundation of Teton Valley has an opportunity to invest $500,000 in an endowment to ensure the future sustainability of the organization. The donor, who will match up to $250,000 in contributions to the endowment, gave the local nonprofit five years to collect the other half. Over the course of the first two years, the board was able to raise approximately $210,000 during the private phase of fundraising. Now, as the effort moves into the public phase, the organization hopes to finish strong and collect the remaining $50,000.

“One of my goals has always been to make the nonprofit sustainable,” explained Pam Walker, who is the outgoing executive director of the Education Foundation. “With this endowment, we could weather bad times, or, if we have a really great project idea, we would be free to implement it immediately without having to first navigate fundraising.” Walker has been at the helm of the Teton Valley nonprofit for six years, a tenure that will end on March 12 when her replacement will take over.

The half-million dollar endowment will be invested with local adviser Justin Bowersock of Rock Hill Advisers, and within five years, the organization will be able to operate largely on the dividends returned. The corpus of the endowment will remain invested for perpetuity, and the profits will be used to continue programming to support education in Teton Valley.

The Education Foundation, since its inception in 2005, has supported the local public school district to provide additional programming and grant funding to teachers. Idaho consistently jockeys for last place in public education funding with Mississippi, and unlike neighboring Wyoming, the state does not enjoy an infusion of mineral taxes to supplement the state’s education budget. The Education Foundation of Teton Valley complements the efforts of Teton School District 401 through programming directly for students of all ages, as well as opportunities for teachers to apply for $5,000 grants to fund specific projects or cover general classroom costs.

Additionally, in the face of Covid, the Education Foundation was able to quickly provide additional resources for students to minimize the impact of the pandemic. From purchasing and providing wireless hotspots and Chromebooks to expand internet access, to giving students outdoor chairs for taking classroom learning into the fresh air, to providing elementary students hand sanitizer and reusable water bottles (since drinking fountains are turned off for pandemic safety), the nonprofit nimbly stepped up to support the dynamic innovations required to continue learning. Additionally, the organization purchased masks for teachers and collaborated with local businesses to gift teachers “Superhero” cards: discounts at local vendors to demonstrate their appreciation of educators’ front-line work during the pandemic.

The Education Foundation has also continued to provide its array of services to students and families throughout the district. Per state guidelines, all students in kindergarten through third grade, and those in seventh and eleventh grades, receive free hearing and vision screening. Students who require glasses or hearing aids are also eligible for subsidized access to these critical tools. The nonprofit also works closely with the district to offer weekly Spanish and art classes to all elementary-aged students, a socio-emotional and mentoring program in the high school, and myriad other resources for supporting early literacy and development. “Between all of these programs, we essentially touch every single student in the district,” Walker noted.

The endowment will allow the Education Foundation to continue these ongoing programs, as well as expand into new efforts in coming years. “The community has really stepped up to help us in this effort. It will make us a very strong nonprofit that doesn’t have to rely exclusively on major donors or annual fundraising,” explained Walker. “It’s been my goal to get this done before retiring. Unfortunately Covid hit, and we weren’t able to focus on it as much as we wanted. We were all in survival mode.” Now, in Covid’s wake, Walker and the board hope that the community will have renewed appreciation for the ways in which the Education Foundation was able to support local students and educators.

Board chair Nan Pugh agrees: “We view the endowment as an opportunity fund. With a fully-funded endowment we are able to quickly respond to needs as they arise.” The robust endowment will ensure the organization’s ability to remain agile and provide for the needs of students, families, and teachers in the valley.

All donors who contribute over $1,000 will be recognized with a plaque on a specially-designed donor recognition wall, a tribute that is currently in design with a local architect.

Walker is hopeful that the community can come together and help the organization reach their goal of raising the remaining $50,000 before her retirement in a month. “We will take anything from a dollar up to the full $50k,” she said. Over 90 percent of the endowment’s goal has been reached, and Walker is confident that the remaining ten percent can be raised in coming weeks.

Contributions can be made online at tetoneducation.org, or via check at PO Box 1111 in Driggs, ID, 83422.