STERLING – The Bi-County Special Education Foundation might be one of the best-kept secrets in the area.
The foundation, founded in 1996, provides things that enrich educational opportunities for children with special needs – things the regular school district or special education cooperative budgets cannot.
The foundation is best known as a resource among educators. But the nonprofit organization is available to parents and community leaders, too.
“As long as it’s above and beyond and benefits children with special needs, we will fund it,” Executive Director Drew Hoffman said.
The foundation serves children with special needs in Whiteside and Carroll counties in a couple of ways.
The most significant is through mini grants – grants of up to $500 to fund educational materials, teaching tools and field trips, foundation board co-president Jodi Perez said.
Mini grants have been used to buy iPads and applications to enhance student learning in the classroom; to send children to White Oaks Therapeutic Riding Center; to buy an adaptive bicycle to allow a local girl to play with neighborhood kids; to buy supplies for a cooking class; and to help students participate in Special Olympics.
Mini grants are not used to buy textbooks or other basic school supplies.
The foundation awards grants twice a year, in the fall and in the spring. The organization awarded $14,000 in grants last year and $14,500 the year before, Perez said.
The next-most-significant is to provide scholarships to special education students going on to a post-secondary program; to general education students pursuing careers in special education; and to parents of children with autism to attend workshops and seminars.
The foundation awards scholarships in April. It budgets $5,000 for scholarships each year; it handed out $4,500 to three students last year, Perez said.
The foundation also recognizes people who go above and beyond to support children with special needs with its Unsung Hero Awards at its annual recognition ceremony in April.
The Bi-County Special Education Foundation cannot support its mission without contributions from the community, Perez said.
“We’re only successful if people help us,” she said.
The foundation holds several fundraisers, including craft shows in the fall and in the spring, and its annual Hearts of Gold event.
The event features a dessert auction, silent auction and raffles, and all proceeds fund mini grants and scholarships.
The Bi-County Special Education Foundation has made a significant impact on local students and families, Hoffman said. The foundation has awarded $500,000 in grants and scholarships since its inception 16 years ago, he said.
“I don’t want to say we’ve changed what the districts are doing, but we have been able to provide that enhancement piece,” he said. “They could survive without our help, but [the districts] sure are a better place when they have it.”
Tickets available for Hearts of Gold
The third annual Hearts of Gold benefit for the Bi-County Special Education Foundation will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Days Inn Hotel, 2105 First Ave. in Rock Falls.
The fundraiser will feature hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, raffles, a silent auction, a drink auction, a dessert auction and door prizes.
Tickets are $20 each. For tickets or more information, contact Jodi Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-718-1163, or Andrea Brenner at email@example.com or 815-499-4832.
Go to www.bicountyfoundation.org for more information about the foundation, or to download a mini grant or scholarship application.