Back in the fall of 2002, there was no question that the Cascade View Elementary School in Snohomish, Wash., needed a new playground. What was in question was how long students would have to wait to get it.
Was it possible to raise the nearly $40,000 necessary during the 2002-2003 school year to build the playground in a year’s time? Or would it be more feasible to raise money over the long-haul and build the playground in four years?
“It was easy to say ‘yes, we need the equipment,’” recalls Mary Beth Hots, the current co-president of the Cascade View Elementary School PTA. She served as treasurer during the playground fundraising period. The harder part was deciding how aggressively to raise the money. “We didn’t want to touch funds for base programs like teacher allocations, assemblies, and field trips, but we realized if we continued to raise money the way we always did, it would take about four years to get the playground.”
After some discussion, the PTA board opted to go with the one-year plan. The overriding reason? “It just didn’t seem to make sense to ask parents to raise and donate money for a playground that their children might never get to use,” explains Hots, noting that going with the four-year plan would mean that the school’s third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders would be in middle or high school by the time the playground was finished.
“With the one-year plan,” she continues, “only the sixth-graders would miss out.” Two other reasons the short-term plan was more appealing were because it was results-oriented and because it minimized the chance of fundraising burnout.
Once the decision was made to move forward with the one-year goal, various PTA committees, especially the Booster Club, went into overdrive implementing fundraising activities. In addition, the PTA did some serious belt-tightening to give the playground budget a jump-start. Most of the cuts came from the student enrichment budget, which was reduced from $9,000 the previous year to $2,500. The budget includes library and music programs, teacher wish lists, and other things the group considered extras. Other programs took small cuts. For instance, the PTA spent $150 instead of $300 on teacher appreciation, and members were asked to donate food. Donations also cut the cost of the sixth-grade recognition program.
The bottom line: “We managed to roll $9,000 of PTA money into the playground fund without touching our base programs,” says Hots.
From then on, the constant flow of fundraisers began. “We had fundraisers left and right that year,” she says, pointing out that the school community was always informed as to whether the fundraiser was supporting the new playground fund or traditional PTA activities and events. Doing so gave people a choice.
“We felt it was important for them to know the purpose of each fundraiser,” recalls Hots. “That way they could pick and choose. Toward the end of the year, we did get some complaints from people who thought we were hitting them up too often, but we reminded them that they didn’t have to support everything; we didn’t expect them too.”
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All in all, the PTA and its various committees oversaw 10 fundraisers for the playground. These included:
- A springtime “garage sale” that took place in the school cafeteria and raised $2,200
- Two Krispy Kreme doughnut sales that brought in $1,800. Students took orders and the doughnuts were distributed after school or on Saturday morning. “Krispy Kremes still aren’t easy to get in our community,” says Hots. “We took the pre-orders and someone drove to Burlington, Wash., (45 miles) to pick them up. Lots of church groups bought them for Sunday coffee hours.”
- An Entertainment Book sales drive that yielded $3,000
- A silent auction for gift baskets created by the 30 teachers and their students. “This silent auction was very successful and raised $6,000,” says Hots. “The teachers picked a theme for their classroom’s gift basket from a list we gave them. Families and businesses donated items for the basket. We actually had people fighting for a big toy chest with handprints of all the kids decorating it. Another popular basket was a Â‘dress-up’ one. We also had a reading basket, game basket, pampering basket, and many more.”
- A month-long penny drive that resulted in students collecting $1,500. “Two of our volunteers got a company to give them the use of a coin-counting machine,” says Hots. “They brought the money home, sorted it out, rolled some of it, put it in bank bags, and used a handcart and milk crates to haul it in.”
- Box Tops for Education contributions of about $1,300
- $1,100 from Target, Albertsons, and Haggen Food and Pharmacy based on credit card use by customers who designated the school as a charity
- Food booths at various school events ($1,000)
- Catalog gift wrap sales profits of $4,000
Although these efforts raised about $30,000, the playground fund was still $10,000 short of its goal when the idea for a pledge drive came up. The PTA decided to give it a try and offered individuals and businesses that made donations of $100 to $500 the opportunity to have their names put on a plaque on a sign that would be situated on the playground. The monetary categories were $100, $200, $300, $400, and $500 and since space was limited, plaques were only available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hots was surprised and pleased with the immediate support the pledge drive received. “We explained that we were closing in on the goal but still needed $10,000 more and got a huge response,” she says. “People started sending in money right away. I didn’t realize how well people would respond to having their names put on something. There were also many people who sent in less than $100 knowing they wouldn’t even be recognized. People also got employers to donate matching funds.”
This final push paid off big, and by the beginning of the current school year, the children at Cascade Elementary School started enjoying recess on their new playground. During the second weekend in September, more than 50 volunteers worked in shifts to install a playground from Sitelines Park and Playground Products Inc. Local businesses and the town pitched in, too: leveling the land, donating the use of a pumper truck for pouring cement, feeding volunteers.
In November the final step in the installation of the new playground took place, a dedication ceremony. The new playground was named the Michael E. Talley, Cascade View Playground in remembrance of a beloved teacher who died of cancer last spring. His name appears on one side of the sign. On the other side are the names of 50 individuals and businesses that contributed to the pledge drive. Ultimately, though, the playground demonstrates the efforts of the entire community, involving the cooperation of parents, teachers, administrators, students, area businesses, town government, and the playground supplier.
The real reward, of course, can be seen and heard during recess. As Hots says, “The kids just love the new playground. They have plenty of room to play, and there’s something for everyone: bridges, a rock-climbing area, slides, crawl tubes, and climbing bars. It’s not just for the little kids. It keeps older kids busy and meets the needs of our special needs students, too.”