Austin Family Foundation grants support students
With budgets tightening and resources becoming increasingly scarce, officials at the Newberg School District wanted to find a way to improve the district's Career and Technical Education (CTE) and mental health services. With significant financial help from the Austin Family Foundation, district officials believe they achieved their goals and have taken a major step toward improving the educational and extracurricular experiences of its students.
The foundation funded four new mental health positions to support Newberg School District students and granted more than $150,000 for experiences that the district says help prepare students for careers in CTE fields.
"We are grateful that we have such a generous organization in our community that supports our students' mental wellness and provides our students with much needed CTE experiences," Interim Superintendent Joe Morelock said. "These efforts help to create a nurturing environment that prepares our students to be active and engaged members of our community, local business owners, entrepreneurs, conservationists or even rocket scientists."
According to spokesperson Lisa Thompson, the foundation held listening sessions with the school district in April to better identify and understand the needs of the district.
Once the Austin Family Foundation had a grasp of what Newberg needed most, it invited the district to apply for grants. The grants are received through an invitation-only application that is reviewed and processed by the foundation before a decision is made. The district's application resulted in myriad awards that are impacting students.
"Our approach is to partner with the school district and nonprofits and understand how we can help support pathways of opportunity and success," Thompson said. "We view our grantees as the experts, with our role being to help support or expand their programs. We believe education and mental health services are critical."
District officials agreed. After seeing a "serious increase in suicide and suicidal ideation" among Newberg students over the past few years, the district worked proactively to partner with local providers to increase access for students to needed mental health services, according to Luke Neff, director of strategic partnerships.
Two of these partners, Providence Medical Group Newberg and Lutheran Community Services Northwest, received grants to expand the services they can offer to Newberg students.
PMG Newberg provides crisis support for Newberg's secondary schools. Through a grant from the Austin Family Foundaiton, Providence will have two new "community outreach specialist" positions dedicated to Newberg schools. These two individuals will connect Newberg students with the right mental health support system and help students and families navigate the often complex mental health system.
The foundation also funded two mental health positions at the elementary and middle school levels through Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW). The organization already works with three elementary schools in the district, but now it will be able to expand its mental health services to all elementary and middle schools in the district by the fall.
"The Austins' generosity is making an incredible difference in the lives of our students," Neff said. "Also, PMG Newberg staff – especially Dr. Jeri Turgesen and Elise Yarnell – have put in so much volunteer time and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support the mental wellness of our students. They have literally saved the lives of many of our students. I don't know where we'd be without them and these grants will do even more to help."
Between Newberg High School and Catalyst, the district's alternative high school program, four CTE-focused projects received funding from AFF grants.
At Catalyst, a half-time positioned was funded to help coordinate Career Exploration Fridays, a new program that gives its students the opportunity to visit local businesses, explore potential CTE careers, engage in service projects and make professional connections. Catalyst principal Tim Graham told the district that 35 business partners have come forward and he's seen an uptick in Friday attendance since getting the program started.
At Newberg High School, three different projects received grants from AFF. The largest went to the Integrated Design Studio class, during which students help build tiny homes in collaboration with North Valley Friends Church and Love INC. The homes are intended for lower-income residents and Neff said they will help with Newberg's affordable housing shortage. After building one last year, the grant funding ensures that students in the course will have the materials and tools to build another tiny home this year.
The newly created "makerspace" at the NHS library also received funding for tools and materials that will give students the chance to "make things to make us better" — the makerspace's tagline, according to Neff. The makerspace will also support students who are interested in competing in an invention festival, done in collaboration with other Innovate Oregon districts.
Lastly, the AFF also funded a CNC lathe for Tiger Manufacturing – a student-run business at the high school that needed the piece of machinery to become completely self-sustaining.
The depth and scale of AFF's contributions is felt across the district – both in the classroom and outside of it. The hope in the future, Thompson said, is to invite the district to apply for more grants in order to help even further. Education remains a priority for the Austin family and the foundation that bears its name, she said.
The school district appears grateful.
"We can't say enough about how thankful we are that we have such amazing community partners who have stepped up to help our kids," Neff said. "It's really special."