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I Went to a Garden Party

by the AFRDS

A Case Study on How to Say "Thank You"

It's a small school — only 320 students — in the modest community of Grass Valley, California, a few miles East of Sacramento. Yet, last year Pleasant Ridge Elementary successfully recruited 147 volunteers, including 21 grandparents, to participate in a fundraising campaign to build an outdoor learning lab. That's a student-to-volunteer ratio of 2:1.

Volunteer participation at this level doesn't just happen. In fact, it's so unusual that it may be one reason why the Southern California school was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. According to Principal Fran Madison-Cohee, ownership is the key.

"I have one golden rule: before the school takes on a project, everyone must buy into it," says Madison-Cohee. She explains how she works with teachers, parents and the student council to involve the entire school community:

"Last year we realized that many of our students had never seen raw produce. The teachers and parents thought a garden would make a good science lab and provide a fun way to introduce them to new vegetables, and at the same time provide hands-on learning about the life cycle and the importance of recycling."

With blessings from teachers and parents, Madison-Cohee took the idea to the student council which endorsed the project.

Fundraising programs are always adult supervised at Pleasant Ridge. However, Madison-Cohee selects projects that are easily managed by kids because she wants students to be involved in fundraising.

"They earn the money to spend the money; otherwise it's hollow," claims Madison-Cohee. For the garden project, students and parents participated in product fundraising, with students also participating in a schoolwide penny drive.

Teachers at Pleasant Ridge Elementary support fundraising efforts by incorporating age appropriate math exercises such as charting, graphing, estimating and the obvious addition and subtraction. Last year, businesses and the community at-large provided special assistance by donating building supplies for the outdoor learning lab.

With everybody's participation, Pleasant Ridge Elementary met and exceeded their annual fundraising goals. The money not only made possible a vegetable garden but also a much needed portable sound system.

Then they celebrated with an extra special volunteer luncheon at the end of the year. Students and teachers decided to invite all 147 volunteers to see the "fruits of their labor." Students and teachers' aides took responsibility for decorating an area near the garden. Teachers prepared a pot luck luncheon after which everyone enjoyed a musical tour of the garden.

Every volunteer at Pleasant Ridge Elementary receives a personalized thank you note and a small gift recognizing their contribution. Each year Madison-Cohee honors the extra efforts of a few special volunteers with her "Hero of the Heart" award and a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The school's volunteer coordinator, Kathy Giles, and school beautification coordinator, Karen Campbell, were named 1996 "Heroes of the Heart" for successfully orchestrating Pleasant Ridge Elementary's most volunteer-intensive and perhaps most rewarding fundraising project to date.

"The kids used to make fun of us for eating raw vegetables. Now they love their new 'vending machine' so much so that you can't find a green bean," laughs the principal.

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About the Author:

This article is from the Fall 1997 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.

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