'WE ARE ALL PHILANTHROPISTS'
Lake Oswego philanthropist Debbie Craig and incoming school Superintendent Lora de la Cruz were among the featured speakers Tuesday when the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation hosted its annual fundraising luncheon at the Oregon Golf Club.
Mary Kay Larson, the Foundation's executive director, told the sold-out crowd of city, school and community leaders that the event was a chance to say "thank you" for their support of local schools.
"Not only do you make the community a better place, you understand the importance of education. You embody our mission to advance our community through education," she told attendees. "I've never met a group of people more dedicated to making sure we move the needle for our students."
The luncheon is the centerpiece of the Foundation's annual fundraising campaign, which solicits donations to hire and retain additional teachers who typically can be found at every school in the district. The $1.5 million raised last year currently funds the equivalent of 20 full-time teachers in Lake Oswego classrooms.
In past years, the luncheon has served as the kickoff for donations, but the fundraising campaign was structured differently this year and started in September. "Rather than having the luncheon kick off the fundraising campaign,
it will be a celebration of those who have already donated and a call to those who have not," Larson told The Review.
By the time diners sat down for lunch Tuesday, more than $1.1 million had already been raised — almost 75 percent of the Foundation's annual $1.5 million goal.
"We've seen tremendous results in our new fundraising timeline, and the new rate of giving has multiple impacts," Foundation President Kirk Olsen said. "It can inspire others to give, and we are now in a stronger position to make a direct and immediate impact for students."
Olsen told attendees that as the parent of three students in the district, he sees firsthand how Foundation dollars benefit students.
"I can attest to the power of the Foundation. The benefits are felt by every student at every school," he said. "The Foundation lifts up our students, and in the process it lifts us up."
Craig, who served as the keynote speaker, said she has seen the Lake Oswego School District grow exponentially over the past 50 years. She attended Lakewood Elementary School (now the Lakewood Center for the Arts) and graduated from Lake Oswego High School; all four of her children graduated from Lakeridge High.
When Craig went to school, she said, "girls all wore skirts, we played half-court basketball and we were given three dribbles each. Clearly, things have changed."
One thing that hasn't changed is the community's commitment to its students, she said. "Back in 1990, Superintendent Bill Korach hired Mary Puskas, and they began to lay the groundwork for the Foundation," said Craig. "Parents really stepped up. ... Our community has always stepped up."
"You have chosen an amazing community to live in," she added. "We have a tradition of giving back, getting involved and sharing your skills and your money."
As the longest serving trustee of the Meyer Memorial Trust, Craig is no stranger to philanthropy. She told attendees, however, that you don't need to have a job like hers to be a philanthropist. "We are all philanthropists," she said. "It's about making a difference. One small thing is felt in a big way in our community."
De la Cruz, who will take over as superintendent on July 1, shared her personal story with attendees — a story of grit, determination and a commitment to education.
De la Cruz's parents met at the border between Texas and Mexico. After her father was killed in Vietnam, her mother raised five children by herself, despite speaking only limited English and having only a high school diploma from Mexico. But her mother always dreamed of more, de la Cruz said.
"It was always my mother's dream to go to college. Because of peoples' kindness, generosity and support, she was able to obtain a bachelor's degree and a master's degree," de la Cruz said. "Education truly has the power to change lives. I want to ensure the children in my care have the opportunities and access to shape their talents and skills and achieve their goals, just like I did."
De la Cruz also thanked Superintendent Michael Musick and former district leaders Bill Korach and Heather Beck for their work in paving the way to educational excellence. "I'm excited to continue down this path to a world-class education," she said.
Musick thanked the Foundation for its role in providing opportunities for the district's students. "This has been a fantastic year, and we could not accomplish this without all of you," said Musick. "Our student achievements are directly tied to the Foundation."
The luncheon also featured performances by Lake Oswego High School's Windjammers and Lakeridge High School's Company singing groups, as well as the unveiling of a new video campaign.
The video featured dozens of students from Lake Oswego schools expressing what makes their teachers special and their education unique.
"(My teachers) make an effort to teach you lessons that are applicable to how to live your life," said high schooler Jake Khawaja. "They really care about our growth and development."
To find more information about the Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.losfoundation.org.