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Non-profit focuses on school children

By ANDREA FURLONG

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Highland Ridge, Williamsburg, is putting a charitable program into gear.

K-90, a non-profit extension of Highland Ridge, provides aid to Iowa County children who are identified as “in need.”

The retirement home and care center began the program last year, after an employee exercise in philanthropy got Highland Ridge workers thinking about the needs of community members. Instead of a Christmas gift exchange, the 14 members of the Highland Ridge senior staff were given $35 to disperse in the community as they saw fit.

“It was a very moving, a very emotional few hours when we were all telling our stories,” said Jeremy Gerrish, campus administrator. “There was a young guy who was going to play basketball and didn’t have the equipment he needed, and (one employee) helped him get that equipment and shoes and other stuff.”

Some pooled their money together to buy Christmas dinners for families, while others provided gifts to children. But Gerrish and other Highland Ridge employees were surprised to find that with all the charities in Iowa County for coats and shoes and meals and other necessities, there were still some needs that weren’t being met — particularly those affecting the well-being and happiness of school age children.

“The more and more we talked, we found out that especially with the current economic conditions, there’s a group of people who have fallen in the gap. There are all kinds of state and federal aid for people who are at true poverty level. But then there are people who are paying their rent, paying their bills, but in order to make it, their kids might not be able to get the $50 fee for basketball this year or not join the summer rec program this year,” Gerrish explained.

So, in January, the team of Highland Ridge employees decided to form a non-profit charity that would address the needs of children in grades K-12. The name K-90, Gerrish said, was chosen to represent Highland Ridge’s new goal of providing for the young (like kindergartners) through its new charitable program to the elderly who live at the center.

While K-90 started nearly a year ago, it has taken the past 10 months to secure donations to start funding children’s needs. Once the non-profit volunteer group raised $2,000, it sought the participation of Iowa County’s three school districts, English Valleys, Marengo and Williamsburg. 

Gerrish said K-90 will receive requests for student assistance via guidance counselors, teachers and principals in the three school districts.

“They’re the ones who really know the families. They know if there’s a family just trying to get away with something or if there’s a family that has a child and there really is a need of some kind,” he said.

A committee of five Highland Ridge employees will determine which needs will be met and how. Children’s names will remain anonymous from the committee. Individual monetary assistance may be granted up to $50, except for extreme situations, like a child in need after a house fire.

“It’s a case-by-case basis. It’s really where we can have a maximum impact for the well-being and self esteem of an individual child,” Gerrish explained.

Examples of situations eligible for K-90 assistance include children unable to afford equipment for extracurricular school activities, students in need of field trip money or students in need of meal money.

“There’s always a kid or two that, while they went on the field trip, their parents couldn’t afford to give them money for McDonald’s, so they have a peanut butter sandwich. The other kids just tease and make fun of them. Well, that’s $5. Why isn’t that something we can do if it’s going to help that kid?” Gerrish said.

Gerrish emphasized many of K-90’s efforts may seem small, but to a child they will mean all the difference.

“There’s a lot of charities out there that fund raise full-time and raise tens of thousands of dollars and do things, like go to a needy family’s house and fill their propane tank up for winter heating. We just don’t have the ability to do those big things, but we’re hoping to be able to do hundreds of these little $5 and $10 and $20 things that will really have a big impact on the younger kids,” He said.

Community relations director, Mandy Steckly, who manages K-90, agreed.

“With the help of our local school district, our goal is to ‘create smiles in the children’s eyes of our community.’” She said.

K-90 is a Christian, non-profit organization and an extension of Highland Ridge, Williamsburg. The charitable organization recognizes its Christian connection through Highland Ridge’s affiliate, Presbyterian Homes. Assistance will be provided regardless of the religion of the recipients. To donate funds to K-90, please make checks out to K-90 and mail them to Highland Ridge, 100 Village View Circle, Williamsburg, IA, 52361. For more information, please contact Mandy Steckly at (319) 668-3803 or at msteckly@preshomes.org.

K-90’s next fund-raising event will be a giftwrapping service for donations Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Williamsburg Historical Commission Center, 516 Elm St., Williamsburg.

UPDATED November 25, 2009 12:26 PM

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