Local nonprofit services to continue after loss of major funding source
by Patrick McCreless
Feb 18, 2014 | 3817 views |  0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks Middle School seventh-grade math teacher Lauren Young helps Hannah Kincer with her class work in their newly remodeled computer lab. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Saks Middle School seventh-grade math teacher Lauren Young helps Hannah Kincer with her class work in their newly remodeled computer lab. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Last year, Saks Middle School students were about half the age of the computers they used every day. Many of the old computer monitors didn’t even work.

However upgrades installed in May with a $70,000 grant from the Anniston Community Education Foundation, complete with 90 new desktop computers and 20 iPads, brought the students into the 21st century.

“The students use them daily,” Brandy Ragsdale, Saks Middle guidance counselor, said about the school's three upgraded computer labs. “The labs are used for student assessment, teaching and for student research.”

Since its creation in 2003, the foundation has provided grants, student scholarships and programs all to improve childhood education in the area. In December, however, the nonprofit group’s main funding source for the last 12 years is set to expire. But the foundation's administrators say savings and additional funding sources will keep the group’s services running for years to come.

The foundation was created after a lawsuit was filed against the Monsanto Company, which produced polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs from 1929 to 1971, contaminating parts of west Anniston. The court ordered the company, renamed Solutia, to establish and fund the foundation for 12 years — a period that ends in December.

Kerwin Allen, executive director for the foundation, said his organization has planned for the loss of Solutia's funding for some time.

“Our services won't change," Allen said. "Just like any other nonprofit, we'll be doing fundraisers and accepting grants ... and we've been doing that already ... we've received numerous grants in the past.”

Allen said the foundation has also saved money for several years to keep its services going once the money from Solutia is gone.

“Our grants and scholarships ... we have enough money to keep them around for years to come,”

Allen said. "We mainly need money for administration and we've already secured money for that for the next few years."

According to the foundation's 2013 tax records, the organization received $613,541 in revenue and spent $379,149 in 2012. It had net assets of approximately $1.65 million in 2012, the records show.

Foundation board member David Baker said he believed the organization will maintain its level of service after the Solutia funding ends.

"We are going to continue our work," Baker said.

Baker said the foundation has done much for the Anniston area over the years.

“The foundation has meant a great deal to the community, helped lift the people up as far as young people in the area ... raised and heightened children's spirits and given a better outlook on children education,” Baker said.

Allen said that when the foundation first started, it just provided grant money to schools and organizations for educational projects. It later began offering scholarships to local students. According to its website, the the group awarded $54,000 in scholarships to students around Calhoun County last year.

The foundation also runs several programs of its own, such as Parents and Leaders, which provides educational resources for parents at local Head Starts once a month. The foundation also provides money to a local youth community service program and the AmeriCorps, tutors who help students at local schools.

"We also give college tours and take students to different colleges for a week," Allen said. "We just started doing that once a quarter instead of once a year, which allows us to take more students."

Randolph Park Elementary is benefiting this year from a $70,000 grant for science labs, said Principal Teresia Hall.

"We wanted to incorporate more science earlier for our students to better help them when they get to high school," Hall said.

The science labs, when finished later this year, will include gardens with various vegetables, plants and experiment kits that the students will use to learn more about earth science, chemistry and biology.

Hall noted this was not the school's first grant from the foundation. In 2012, it shared a $70,000 grant with Golden Springs Elementary to buy reading, writing and math materials, she said.

"They have been an asset to this community," Hall said of the foundation.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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