Local student support group reaps large surprise donation

Posted on February 3rd, 2022 By:

The local affiliate of a group that helps at-risk students stay in school and perform well will receive an $800,000 donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Communities in Schools’ Peninsula announced Thursday that Scott, the former wife of Jeff Bezos, chose it and 39 others from more than 100 affiliates nationwide to share in the $133.5 million gift.

“It was an unsolicited donation,” said Peninsula CIS Executive Director Colleen Speer. “MacKenzie did her own research and she picked them on her own. We are blessed to be one of the 40. We passed the test we didn’t know we were taking. They looked at our track record and were impressed with that so that is one of the reasons they picked our affiliate. Our slice of that — $800,000 — is something that just kind of happened in a dream.”

The nonprofit organization employs 17 paid, professional staff members, including 12 full-timers. They work in 10 of the district’s 17 schools and have agreements to help at three others where they’re not on site. An average of 320 students are referred to them each year by school staff.

The donation will allow CISP, which operates on a $782,000 annual budget, to not only “increase the number of schools and students we serve, but it will also add organizational sustainability and the ability to increase resources and services within our existing schools,” Speer said. “It also speaks to our work of striving for educational and racial equity, which was clearly important to this donor.”

Working with schools and local service providers, CISP coordinates critical resources for students and families, including food, housing, healthcare, counseling and access to remote technology while supporting students in their school attendance, behavior and academics.

“We fill in the gray areas, the needs and resources and services that aren’t being met,” Speer said of overcoming obstacles and challenges to learning.

Last year, 79% of students CISP served were low income and 89% percent were exposed to some kind of trauma, Speer said. Ninety-eight percent were promoted to the next grade, and 89% of seniors graduated or received a GED.

“This is wonderful news for children in our community,” said Peninsula School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr. “Communities In Schools empowers students in the Peninsula School District to unlock their full potential. When our students’ talents and skills are realized, our communities grow stronger and more vibrant — socially and economically. We are grateful for their partnership and doing the good work of supporting our community’s youth.”

Communities in Schools has matured during its 22 years on the peninsula.

“We want to recognize and appreciate everybody that helped us get where we are,” Speer said. “We didn’t get here alone.”