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District Profile

Raising Fundraising to Lofty Levels

Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools

Florida students raise more money thinking charitably than peddling products

When the girls' basketball team at Winter Springs High School in central Florida needed to raise $1,600 last spring for new lockers, the teens trashed the time-honored car wash plan. Instead, they manned a water station at an Orlando marathon, chipped in to serve lunch at a nursing home and prepared shepherd's pie for families staying at the local Ronald McDonald House.

Touch Your World, the foundation arm of kiosk king Kinetics, donated $7 an hour for each volunteer working toward the team's goal. And 228 hours later, that's just what they reached.

School administrators are hopeful this new turn of events could scrap students' need to corral cars into "free" car washes and pester the neighbors with magazine subscriptions to fund extracurricular activities in the future. Modeling the idea may be just what cash-strapped districts need to save student programs.

Nuts and Bolts

Superintendent Bill Vogel knows the administration can't financially support the plethora of extracurricular activities--from band appearances and sports team competitions to science fairs--that are an inevitable fact of life in a large district of about 64,000 students. Administrators estimate the bill for these "extras" comes to around $1 million for each of eight high schools per year. Frankly, the liability of having students stand along busy streets hawking car washes or selling to shoppers outside the grocery store to come up with these dollars makes him nervous.

That's where the Touch Your World program comes in:

Student groups, through their educator sponsors, can apply to The Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools for assistance. Executive Director Tina Calderone presents the activity request to committee members.

Once the foundation stamps its approval, Touch Your World matches willing volunteers to non-profit organizations seeking helping hands. Work hours are tallied by student group name, so students needn't stick together. They may choose separate causes based on their available personal time and interests. However, any credits earned must go for a specific, approved event. In other words, no banking dollars for unknown future trips.

A Strong Start

The fundraising method is just officially starting this school year, but already the Winter Springs High School earned its $1,600 and the Lake Brantley High School robotics team clocked in 428 hours this summer toward its international conference in Atlanta. The early turn-out could mean, as good stewards of Kinetics' gift, the foundation board will need to prioritize requests: academic teams (especially math and science), then business competitions, then athletics.

" Parents end up eating the [fundraiser] candy bars themselves. Those had their time. Now it's time to move onto something else that will really make an impact on the county."
-Joe Antrim, community service coordinator, Touch Your World

As for the big picture, Touch Your World has committed a total of $18,000 to this program. This boosts the school foundation's normal $40,000 budget by 45 percent.

Wide, Open Range

The local chamber of commerce lists 65 non-profit organizations in the area, each welcoming volunteer manpower. (And not all 501c3s necessarily pay chamber membership dues, reminds Joe Antrim, community service coordinator for Touch Your World.) To date, students have grabbed hammers for Habitat for Humanity, entertained residents at the Lutheran Haven Nursing Home, performed trail maintenance at the Seminole County Natural Lands and done other service projects.

They made the most out of their surroundings when working on the trails. "All the students would purposely go into the river and 'happen' to start flinging mud at each other. So they had a good time," says Antrim. "That's one of the things we want to impress on them: They can have fun and still really benefit the community and themselves."

Betsy Register, the girls varsity basketball coach and a psychology teacher at Winter Springs High School, says she noticed that enthusiasm levels would rise with each new activity the team booked.

A Business Case

When Joe Antrim explains his foundation's program to the community, he says "it's like a light bulb goes off over their head."

Yet the program's donation formula took some figuring. To determine its $7 an hour rate, Kinetics calculated minimum wage, the average dollar take of a fundraising event and the fact that products like candy bars yield 50 percent profits. "Selling items takes more time and gets less return," he maintains.

Dale Phillips, principal at Winter Springs High School, says of the program, "I thought it was too good to be true."

Mutually Rewarding

To land a Sunshine State's Bright Futures scholarship, which about one-third of graduating students are eligible for each year, it's not just academics that matter. Students must present evidence of 75 community service hours along with GPA and SAT scores. That benefit alone staves off potential accusations of unethical labor standards related to the Touch Your World process.

And the non-profits sure don't hide their gratefulness. Betsy Register still recalls the reaction of the Ronald McDonald House folks to the mealtime gesture made by her basketball team. "You could see on their faces they were worn down and hadn't slept much. They were so appreciative we had dinner for them," she says.

Touch Your World's Joe Antrim treasures a letter from students who showed up at a nursing home. It provided a second chance to reconnect with grandparents they missed. "We found out these aren't just a bunch of grumpy old people," he recites from the paper. One lad actually spent his time playing poker for pennies with a lonely soul; others helped with group craft projects, wrote up residents' histories and occasionally washed windows and cleaned wheelchairs.

"The biggest help was the time they spent with the residents," says Janet Wagner, the activity director for the Lutheran Haven Nursing Home. "Not so much that they saved me or my assistant time, but they were able to do the extra one-on-ones we can't."

District Stats

Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools

No. of schools: 36 elementary; 11 middle, 8 high schools

No. of teachers: 4,437

No. of students: 63,520

Ethnicity: 64% white, 15% Hispanic, 13% African-American, 4% multi-racial, 4% other

Per-pupil expenditure: $5,381

Graduation rate: 81.4%

Area population: 365,000

Superintendent: Bill Vogel, since 2003

Julie Sturgeon is a Greenwood, Ind.-based freelance writer.