Small group does big things
Tigers Night Out, hosted by the Northwestern Lehigh Educational Foundation, was another success bringing money into the nonprofit’s coffers.
The event, held on Feb. 24 at the Lynnport Fire Company, featured dinner, music by the band, Amos, and raffles for all sorts of prizes.
Attendees could select from great donated items such as wine baskets, golf passes from Olde Homestead Golf Club, Eagles memorabilia, Northwestern Lehigh Tigers paraphernalia and tickets to IronPigs baseball games.
The fundraiser will help the foundation raise money needed to benefit youngsters in the Northwestern Lehigh School District.
The foundation’s purpose is to fill in the gaps between the district’s budget and teachers’ needs for field trips and other activities.
In 2017, the foundation raised $1 million to distribute as capital funding, special projects or mini-grants to educators.
From smart boards to learning systems to the Tiger marquis at the high school, the education foundation helped financed these projects.
As a nonprofit, the group also accepts donations from individuals, businesses and the Northwestern Lehigh Alumni Association.
The foundation doesn’t toot its own horn.
“We’ve been here for about 10 years and there are still so many people who don’t even know we exist,” President DJ Wolbert said.
The group began when members of the community saw how the district was missing out on some key needs for students.
Teachers requested various items but were denied because the district budget was already earmarked for more pressing demands.
When the educators can’t make the outlined classroom experience work within the budget, they are grateful for the opportunity to apply to the education foundation.
Applications are accepted year-round but decisions on those requests are made in the first quarter of the year.
“We thought it would be better to award these mini-grants so educators can plan out the next school year,” Wolbert said.
The NWLEF consists of community members, some are alumni, some have kids in district schools, others don’t but the common thread is the desire to make the educational experience the best it can be, regardless of budget constraints.
“These [funds] are not just handed out without a process,” Wolbert added. “We work closely with the school district and the school board to assess the day-to-day needs of teachers in the classroom.”
Teachers are requesting microscopes, hydroponics and aeroponics (water conservation systems for plant growth), iPads, voice recording technology, listening centers and math and reading support programs.
“Some school districts have endowments set up in perpetuity, or a fund that’s financed for say, 10 years,” Wolbert said. “That’s great but the awards available to the teachers are set amounts.
“It’s tough to teach with limited resources. Our goal is to use up all the money we’ve got to fully fund programs or items, and then start fundraising again the following year.”
Along with Wolbert, Vice President Dan Macaulay, Secretary Val Creitz and Treasurer Steve Prange round out the Northwestern Lehigh Educational Foundation Board.
Wolbert noted additional board members are business owners, coaches and teachers.
With roots in the community, NWLEF continues to increase its membership and fundraising efforts.
The NWLEF plans four annual events — the Tigers Night Out in February; 5K Run and Fun Walk, 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. May 26 at Ontelaunee Park, a golf tournament 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 10 at Olde Homestead Golf Club; and a clay shoot 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 14 at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays
“The range of different fundraisers gives something for everyone,” Wolbert said. “Not all the events appeal to everyone, sometimes we may see runners every year at the 5K, but not at the Golf tournament.”
He added support from the community as well as the school district has made NWLEF’s events successful.
With school safety now foremost on school districts (and students’ and parents’ minds) throughout the country, Wolbert was asked if he thought the NWLEF would ever award funding for items or programs that enhance safety.
“Right now we’re focused on education,” he said. “But safety is an open discussion.”
For information on how to become involved, visit NWLEF.org.