Blount County Education Foundation awarded $90,000 grant



High schoolers, Kelsey Smith, far left, and Hannah Arnold, far right, sing along with elementary students at one of Expanding Horizon's music camps.

High schoolers, Kelsey Smith, far left, and Hannah Arnold, far right, sing along with elementary students at one of Expanding Horizon’s music camps.

Mitchie Neel, executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation, had been on pins and needles all day. Just when she was about to give up hope, she received the news she had been waiting for.

“I checked the e-mail one more time at 3:55 p.m., and it had come in with a notice for (from) Mr. James McCrary emailing that we had been selected,” Neel said. “I started jumping up and down, whooping and hollering and started emailing and calling directors. We were just excited beyond belief.”

McCrary is the program specialist who heads up the grant process for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. In December, the Blount County Education Foundation had applied for a grant from the Community Foundation. The e-mail was confirmation the Education Foundation would be awarded a grant of $90,000.

Starting in 2013, they will be given $30,000 each year continuing through 2015. The money will go toward funding “Expanding Horizons,” a program conducted by the foundation, which provides summer library access and summer camp opportunities for students in all grades.

The lengthy application process began with a summary application of what the foundation was, their budget and other information about the program.

“In the beginning of that process there were 75 organizations that made applications. Twenty-eight were invited to continue and we were one of the 28,” Neel said.

After a second, more in depth application, the program was chosen to continue to the third round, which included an interview.

Neel attended the interview along with Jim Henderson, Blount County Education Foundation’s president.

“When we left that interview we felt like we had done a great job of representing our project, but we had no idea if we would be funded or not,” Neel said.

Now, with the e-mail confirmation, the Education Foundation can begin looking to the future with great expectations. According to Neel, simply continuing the opportunities for the students is important, but adding more topics for camps that students are interested in is also on the agenda.

“At the end of the year we’ll look at our interest surveys that we’re going to put out there so parents and students can tell us what they need and would like us to have,” Neel said.

The foundation’s members also want more camps in more locations. For example, one popular camp is the art camp at Susan Moore Elementary library. Neel would like another art camp to be offered at a location in the southern part of the county considering Susan Moore is in the northern part; therefore, more students in the southern area of the county wouldn’t have to travel as far to attend the camp.

“I am so pleased the Education Foundation has been awarded this grant that will make our summer programs possible for three more years,” said Superintendent Jim Carr. “Providing students experiences during the summer is so important and keeps the learning connection going.”

Even with the recent grant, the Education Foundation still asks other sponsors who have helped them this year to continue helping them with the additional grants they provide so they can serve as many students as possible. The foundation stretches their dollars to create the biggest impact, according to Neel.

“We are just ecstatic beyond belief,” Neel said. “We are going to have $90,000 and continue to have our libraries open during the summer so kids can continue having access to material and be connected to learning in the summer and doing camps so students have a chance to enhance their talent or develop an interest or reinforce a skill.”

The 2012 summer library access will have specific themes and be held at different times across the county:

•Appalachian Library: Days: Tuesday June 5 – Tues. July 10 Time: 9:00 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. Theme: Let’s Meet the Author! Coordinator: Charity Cleveland

•Cleveland Elementary Library: Days: Every Tuesday of June and July Time: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Theme: Carry Out a Good Book! Coordinator: Kathy Gilliland

•Hayden Primary Library: Days: Every Wednesday of June and July Time: 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Theme: Fun Summer Reading! Coordinator: Theresa Black

•Hayden Elementary Library: Days: Every Tuesday of June and July Time: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Theme: Beach Reads! Coordinator: Monica Moorer

•Hayden High Library: Days: Every Tuesday of June and July Time: 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Theme: Summer Reading! Coordinator: Sheila Sherrer

•Locust Fork Elementary Library: Days: Every Thursday of June and July Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Theme: Reading for All Ages. Coordinator: Wendi Latta

•Locust Fork High Library: Days: Wednesday June 6, 13, 20, and July 17 and 25 Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Theme: Summer Reading! Coordinator: Grindl Weldon

•Southeastern Elementary Library: Days: Every Tuesday of June and July Time: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Theme: Making Mustangs Mighty Readers! Coordinator: Ramona Blocker

•Susan Moore Elementary Library: Days: Every Monday of June and July Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Theme: A “Sun”sational Storybook Summer. Coordinator: Kim Prestridge