School foundation aims high to support students

Community in Action

Ask anyone, from the PTA volunteer who organizes a jogathon, to the nonprofit leader who runs a gala auction: Fundraising is hard work. Of course, the payoff makes it all worthwhile.

The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation isn’t shying away from the sometimes daunting task of fundraising, because the payoff is better opportunities for students.

“I really believe in the mission and the work being done at the Foundation,” said Ashley Kimberley, who is on the Foundation’s board of trustees. Kimberley is director of marketing at IMCO General Construction, a Foundation donor.

“I know the need is great, and the Foundation is a way for our community to support all the schools in an equitable way, strengthening our society and community,” Kimberley said.

First organized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 1993, the Foundation mainly played a hospitality role back then, funding events such as retirement dinners for school staff. Eventually it fell dormant. At Superintendent Greg Baker’s prompting, a new board of trustees was convened in 2011-12, and the Foundation was revived with a new mission.

“Dr. Baker and our (school) board have given us the Bellingham Promise,” said Rogan Jones, who has been on the Foundation board since it was reinstated. “With this philosophy, grant gifting becomes a pretty straightforward activity. We support the kids who need help, the teachers who innovate, and richness in the classroom.”

Equity is a high priority for the Foundation under the leadership of its board and Executive Director Kim Lund. In March, the Foundation awarded more than $30,000 in grants to more than two dozen programs throughout the school district. The three largest grants, called Impact Grants, went to Squalicum High School, Shuksan Middle School and Cordata Elementary School. This year, the Impact Grants will promote healthy communities for all students, with a focus on those who have emotional and behavioral disorders or have experienced trauma.

The Foundation also supports STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math), art and music, and programs that promote student wellness through physical education classes and healthy school meals.



After a successful community appeal in March (you may have seen the signs in schoolyards), the Foundation exceeded its budget goal for 2016-17, which was to raise $307,250. The Foundation had already taken in $383,000 as of May 1, Lund said. The push now is to reach $500,000.

The Foundation plans to kick off the next school year with a new event intended to give community members more opportunities to participate. To complement the annual Hungry Minds Breakfast happening later in the fall, Lund promises a “vibrant evening event” on Friday, Sept. 8. Stay tuned for more details as the date gets closer.

With this year’s success, the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation is approaching the fundraising levels at more established public school foundations. This year’s revenue amounts to almost $35 per student so far.

“Our goal is to raise $50 per student in giving, which is closer to Everett and Snohomish’s foundations but still far behind communities like Issaquah, Bellevue or Bainbridge,” Lund said.

Foundation leaders are thinking bigger still. Board member Joseph Correa, who has served on numerous nonprofit boards, is pushing the Foundation to realize its long-held goal to establish an endowment. The target is $10 million, in order to give Bellingham students the same opportunities Correa has witnessed at other school districts — Issaquah in particular, where his niece’s daughter attended Skyline High School.

Correa’s grandniece and her teammate took first place in a national forensic medicine competition in 2015. (Forensic medicine is more popularly referred to as crime scene investigation, or “CSI.”)

“I was stunned that coming from Issaquah, the kid would win at the national level,” Correa said. Afterward, the young student was invited to work with a doctor at a hospital in Seattle. “Then universities were vying to get her.”

The Issaquah Schools Foundation provided a grant that helped pay for CSI kits for every student enrolled in forensics science class.

“For me the whole thing hinged upon what the school provided as an extracurricular,” Correa said.

“I want our students to compete fairly well” with the best school districts in the state, he added. “That is our goal, our dream.”

“It’s not difficult for us to provide the same opportunities,” added Correa, who was instrumental in returning a struggling arts center in Pittsburgh to financial solvency as the president of that nonprofit’s board. “You just have to explain (to potential donors) how we can use their help.”

One way to raise that kind of money is through estate gifts. A $10 million endowment could fund a variety of education programs in Bellingham schools “forever,” Jones said.

Lund said Bellingham doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. The Anacortes School District is growing its endowment, which now stands at $3 million.

The endowment would be for every student in Bellingham Public Schools, whether it helps a high school student realize her dream of becoming a doctor, or ensures that a kindergartner has shoes to wear to school.

“Dr. Baker’s philosophy of making the raising of our kids a community issue has been very powerful,” Jones said. “He gets caring folks to volunteer and help. I suspect we could do the same with donors.”

How you can help

  • Donations to the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation are always accepted online at Click on “Make a Gift,” then follow the instructions. Donors can specify where they would like their money to go.
  • The Foundation has established the Legacy for Learning Society and invites members of the community to consider including BPSF in their estate plans. You can learn more about planned giving options by calling the Foundation at 360-676-6479.


Photos: (1) Shuksan Middle School students and staff pose with a large check representing a $5,000 Bellingham Public Schools Foundation Impact Grant for the school’s “Students Leading Students” mentoring program. (2) Kim Lund, executive director of the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, surprises Cordata Elementary School Principal Analisa Ficklin on March 19, 2017, with a $5,000 Impact Grant.


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