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Amelia Islander

A little help from friends

Apr 09, 2015 12:20PM
The first-quarter of 2015 hasn’t even arrived yet, and Nassau County’s newest non-profit organization has already raised over $140,000. Can someone shout, “Hooray!”? Nassau Education Foundation (NEF) President Abby Bean will, that’s for sure! Florida State Senator Aaron Bean and his wife, Abby, were responsible for founding this organization late last year. “In Aaron’s networking in Tallahassee last year, we learned that of Florida’s 67 counties, 64 have education foundations that fundraise for their schools and apply for grants from the state for matching dollars,” Abby explains. “When we learned Nassau County was one of the three counties without an education foundation, we approached Superintendent Dr. John Ruis and partnered to create NEF.” Larry Myers of VyStar Credit Union’s board of directors joined the effort as vice president, Brandy Carvallo of White Oak Plantation serves as treasurer, and David Richardson of Florida Public Utilities is the foundation’s secretary. NEF seeks to establish relationships between the community and the public school system to link community resources with the needs of the teachers and students. “We use the dollars we raise to fund grants for teachers and schools to supplement educational supplies and help students meet their goals,” says Abby. “I’ve served on the Fernandina Beach High School Foundation for over six years, and I see the great work the money it raises does for teachers and classrooms. It empowers the teachers to pursue innovative ideas when they have the opportunity to secure resources to fund special projects outside the normal educational budget. I am so excited that we will have this on a county-wide level in the years to come, offering teachers more opportunities than ever before.” The cherry on top is that the State of Florida will match many of the dollars raised by the foundation. The Consortium of Florida Education Foundations awards dollar-for-dollar grants for six areas including career/technical education, increasing graduation rates, literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, teaching quality, and support for low-performing students. Since 2001, $29.9 million dollars has been allocated by the Florida Legislature for the School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program. For school year 2014-15, $4.5 million has been allocated and is being used to fund 153 projects across Florida to help raise student achievement, according to the consortium’s web site. “We are eager to start applying for these grants,” states Abby. “We want to be good stewards of the dollars our community has so generously given.” NEF is comprised of business and political leaders, community volunteers, and school officials, who share the common goal of enriching and enhancing the quality of education for our students and educators. The initial way they’ve sought to do this was with the inaugural Teacher of the Year Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, which was a roaring success! “Each of the fifteen schools in the county selects a teacher of the year. I’ve volunteered in our public schools with all three of my children, and I know our teachers deserve some extra TLC,” smiles Abby. Each Teacher of the Year was recognized and presented with a gift basket donated by the community, which included a cash gift, gift cards, and even a Kindle Fire donated by EDCO. The top five teachers were individually honored and their work in the classroom was highlighted through videos that included interviews and classroom scenes. At the end of the night, the top five teachers were awarded computer tablets donated by Dell, and the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year—Jennifer Albert, a 5th grade teacher at Emma Love Hardee Elementary in Fernandina Beach—was announced. “I was truly honored to be recognized by NEF during this special event. I know I speak for all the teachers that evening when I say, thank you, to each and every one of the NEF’s members who organized this unforgettable experience,” says Albert. NEF is looking forward to the 2016 Teacher of the Year Gala and to partnering with more local businesses to support the educational endeavors of our county. Special thanks to this year’s lead sponsors: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island; Rayonier; Rayonier Advanced Materials; EDCO; Florida Blue; Baptist Medical Center-Nassau; VyStar Credit Union; Brooks Rehabilitation; Florida Public Utilities; Jacksonville University; Renaissance Learning; and Presidio. If you are interested in getting involved, joining the roster of sponsors, or making a donation, you can email [email protected].