BUCKHANNON – In October 1997, the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. was created for one sole purpose: to aid in the betterment of the public-school system in Upshur County, West Virginia.
Today that mission continues, as the nonprofit was recently reconstituted and reinvigorated to assist with the countywide backpack program. The backpack program essentially united several backpack programs serving Upshur County Schools under a single umbrella; the backpack program provides students in need of food over school breaks with easy-to-fix meals like soup, Spaghetti-Os and more.
But president and founding member Don Nestor said the countywide backpack program is just the beginning: The newly revived foundation has worked — and will continue to work — to find innovative ways to fund and help deliver programming and much-needed resources.
Nestor said when the Foundation was founded back in 1997, there was no Upshur County Schools levy.
He said at that time, there were some projects that could not be funded, so a group of concerned citizens came together to create the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc.
“The Foundation allowed people to contribute money that could be used for Upshur County secondary schools just for improvement and excellence in schools,” Nestor said. “It was not to cover everyday costs, but was intended to challenge people to look outside the box and to look at things they would like to do but had not been and have not been able to do otherwise.”
The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. is a 501 C 3, or nonprofit organization, which files an annual tax return, and that designation enables people to make a tax-deductible donation to be used in the local school system.
“Anyone who is on the board at the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. cannot be an employee of the Upshur County Board of Education, and none of funds from the foundation can be used for any political endorsement of a levy or any litigation,” Nestor specified. “Funds are to be used purely for the education of students.”
Nestor said the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County Inc. is flexible, but funds are to be used for secondary schools in Upshur County, covering public schools in Upshur County, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We want to be a vehicle to fund these projects,” Nestor said.
He explained how the Foundation for Better Schools might benefit local schools, saying one time, a teacher asked for a money to support implementing a certain kind of project for his class.
“He applied for an innovation grant, and we provided the check for the teacher to purchase the equipment for his classroom,” Nestor said.
On the other side of the coin, Nestor said the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. also can connect people who have ideas to entities with available funding, ultimately creating projects to enhance student learning.
“We have people who come in and have money to donate to specific schools for projects,” he said. “Then, we can go to those schools, through the principal and the BOE Office, and match those donations up with projects in the school for excellence in education.”
Examples of projects that have been funded include sending instructors to seminars to enhance their resources toolkit; funding the teaching of specific skills in classes; bringing geography enhancement projects to fruition; adding ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ in the school for lunchtime and recess; co-sponsoring ‘Space Week’ at B-UMS; and giving donations to Upshur County Teachers of the Year for their classrooms.
“We donated some funds for the turf at B-UHS in honor of someone, and folks in the community gave donations to match our funding,” he said.
One new program that is being added to the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. recently is the countywide backpack program. Nestor said in order to apply for some grants to help with the backpack program, there had to be a charitable foundation to receive the grants.
“We are a charitable foundation, so we fit the mold of doing that for the students in Upshur County,” Nestor said. “Nutrition helps with the excellence in education because students have to eat to function at their optimal potential, so that is where we got our hand on the back to get this going. We have fit in very well because it was already running with very capable people, but they didn’t have that one option of applying for grants [without a charitable organization].”
Nestor said helping in the backpack program has “reconstituted” the board of the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. And along with Nestor, board members include Jane Skinner, Jeanie West, Vanessa Perkins, Kenna Leonard, Steve Cain, Rob Rupp, K.D. Flanigan Coleman, Nicki Bentley-Colthart, Darren Glover, Sam Nolte, Cindi Raffety and Kelley Tierney.
“We have very capable, active and interested people involved,” Nestor said. “We are really looking to expand beyond the backpack program, although that will be our largest monetary need. We really feel there are other options out there. As teachers are able to not be so focused on just getting through the day and the week due to the COVID-19 situation, we have talked about funding their needs that are outside of the box.”
Nestor said he and the other board members of the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. are excited to see what their next step will be.
“With technology and virtual learning, we think things may come up where we can help with funding,” Nestor said. “We are trying to be that vehicle that responds to needs, and we are one that is asking for teachers and others to ‘think at a higher level.’”
An upcoming project funded through the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, Inc. is the ‘Buster the Bus’ training. Nestor said the program will be funded by the Upshur County Transportation Department and the Foundation.
“Buster is a four-foot high bus that is taken to the schools,” he said. “It teaches students about bus safety when loading and unloading the buses. These are the kind of things we like to fund – this will make an impact and could save some students from getting hurt.”
Nestor said the Foundation is not a typical one.
“We don’t go out here and try to raise all kinds of money, but we are looking for innovative ideas to deliver education, and the ideas will fund themselves. We are trying to connect people who have funds with good ideas and connect people with good ideas to the funds. That’s so much of what Upshur County is like – we are working together to figure things out.”
The Foundation for Better Education in Upshur County Schools Inc. has a Facebook page and Nestor invites people with ideas to go on and share any ideas they may have or contact one of their board members.
“Feel free to contact anyone on our Foundation if you have ideas to share or questions,” Nestor said.