In hard times, school foundation auction tries to fill the gaps on South Whidbey

South Whidbey Schools Foundation members say there’s never been a greater need for its efforts than in this period of declining enrollment and reduced state funding.

The nonprofit group formed in 1994 to help fill gaps in the South End public school programs is preparing for its annual fundraising auction amid a climate of decreased resources and community discontent.

“The school district has been hit with a double whammy,” Lisa Bjork of Greenbank, foundation president, said Monday. “It’s important to support programs for teachers and kids.”

The foundation provides grants each year for individual school projects not covered by school-district funds, an ever-dwindling account. In the past it has funded South Whidbey High School’s competitive solar-car program, and classroom equipment for shop, arts and music projects.

It also serves as a pass-through fund for people in the community donating to keep programs going, such as the school jazz bands.

The foundation-supported Arts Focus event in February attracted more than 60 people to a kindergarten through 12th-grade community program featuring art, drama, music and dance.

This past year, the foundation distributed about $23,000 in chunks of about $1,000 or less. Bjork hopes to equal that amount at next month’s dinner and auction.

Tickets are on sale now for the dinner, entertainment and auction gala. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at Useless Bay Golf & Country Club.

Tickets are $75 per person, and can be purchased online at, or by e-mailing Nancy Ruff at

Entertainment will be provided by members of the award-winning high school and middle school jazz bands.

There will be an auction at the beginning of the evening, featuring local celebrity Heath Gunn, during which guests can pledge donations to specific categories of school projects. Following that will be a silent auction of artwork by teachers and students, Bjork said.

Featured speaker will be Shannon Sumida Harvey, a 1988 South Whidbey graduate and daughter of Stanford and Sumiko Sumida of Freeland.

Harvey, an elementary school principal in Renton, was the recent recipient — the only one in the state — of a $25,000 award from the Milken Family Foundation for her work in education.

She received the award in part for raising the reading level of her students at Cascade Elementary School more than 33 percent.

“As an educator, I know how much dedication, talent and hard work that takes,” Bjork said. “Shannon is a product of the South Whidbey schools, and reminds us how important it is that our schools continue to provide outstanding educational experiences.”

Harvey attended Western Washington University and Seattle University, and received a doctorate’s degree from Seattle Pacific University.

Only 80 Milken awards in education and medicine are given annually.

Jean Shaw of Langley, a founding member of the foundation, said the program has functioned through the years as “a helping hand” to teachers and students.

“With cuts everywhere, the grants are more and more important,” she said. “It’s critical that there be a robust donation to help out next year, for everybody’s sake.”

Foundation fundraising chairwoman Charlene Arnold of Freeland hopes potential donors during the current sour economy can separate the contentious issues facing the school board with the goals of the foundation.

“We’re hoping they will come with an open heart, an open mind and an open pocketbook,” Arnold said.

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