Monday, March 27, 2006

State to Honor VPEF's Efforts

State to Honor VPEF's Efforts
By Julie Kay/Staff Writer

Sixth-grade students at Cooper Elementary School read in the school's library. The Vacaville Public Education Foundation, which has poured more than $150,000 into school libraries and thousands more into other school programs, will be honored in May by the California Teachers Association. (Rick Roach /Reporter file photo)

The Vacaville Public Education Foundation started unassumingly enough in 2003, but became a local household name in the blink of an eye.

The organization stunned community members with its capacity to inspire, and with the huge amount of funds it began channeling into schools.

Last fall the California Teachers Association announced it was accepting nominations for its annual State Gold Award. And Vacaville Teachers Association President Brenda Hensley saw the perfect opportunity to extend VPEF's name into households far beyond Vacaville.

"The CTA State Gold Award may be bestowed upon any person or organization whose leadership, acts, and support have proven that person or organization to be a true friend of public education," read the nomination instructions. The organization, it continues, should be deserving of statewide recognition.

Hensley put together an application nominating VPEF. The nomination would compete with applications from the more than 1,000 school districts across the state. When, in February, she received a letter from CTA alerting her that her nomination had won, she was elated.

"I just felt like (VPEF) really deserved some statewide recognition for donating over $1 million to our schools," said Hensley. She called VPEF president John Thompson, excited to hear his reaction to the enormous acknowledgment.

To Hensley's surprise, though, Thompson didn't spend an instant savoring the recognition.

"He said, 'Great, this will help with fundraising,' " Hensley recalled.

"It just goes to show how focused they are," continued Hensley. "It's not about them, it's about the kids. It was a telltale sign that that's where his heart is."

Over the past three years, VPEF has poured $151,000 into local public school libraries, $146,000 into sports programs, and $194,000 into the elementary music program. All three initiatives were on the verge of massive reduction or collapse three years ago. The foundation now counts on raising about $350,000 a year. It surpassed $1 million in funding in January.

These days, one can walk into an elementary school classroom to find a fifth-grader playing the saxophone. Or watch a third-grader run her finger slowly across a shelf of library books, looking for the perfect one. Similar scenes have been made possible exclusively by VPEF.

Thompson said that hearing stories of how VPEF's donations help is what really keeps its members going. Similarly, the award provides a "great motivator," Thompson said.

"It's a nice shot in the arm for everyone who's a part of this," he said. The foundation plans to use the award to raise its profile, said Thompson. In May, VPEF will be honored at an awards ceremony.

"It's pretty phenomenal considering the number of school districts in the state," said Thompson. "We're thrilled and we're honored."

Julie Kay can be reached

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