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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

REF Awards Over $100,000 in Grant Money

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

By Jennifer Ersalesi

For many years, community members have been coming together to organize fundraisers to provide grants to educators in the Rutherford School District through a non-profit organization called the Rutherford Education Foundation. Their efforts have enabled them to give educators the opportunity to support the academic, athletic, and extracurricular experiences of students in the school district. Each year, the REF raises more money than the year before and this past year proved to be one of their most successful to date. This is Rutherford interviewed some of the Board members of the REF to learn more about their success.

TIR: After awarding over $100,000 in REF grants this past year, you must be very excited and feel very proud. In your opinion, what is the best part about being able to give out these grants to Rutherford educators?

Rob Fencik (Member of Grant Committee): As an educator myself, I enjoy seeing the innovative approaches by the teachers in my hometown and seeing their grant proposals every year, and know that we have the capability to fulfill some of those visions.

Craig Erickson (Treasurer): It's been just amazing to be a part of an organization that is able to raise the amount of funds we have been fortunate to be able to do and in turn fund amazing grants that the educators of our schools have put in front of us. We have amazing board members, amazing partners who sponsor our events, and parents who care so much to get involved and attend our many events to support the kids. It is truly a perfect storm of great people and a testament to what can be accomplished when we are all so passionate about the common goal here, the future of Rutherford and beyond.

TIR: Why do you think the REF has been so successful in their fundraising efforts?

RF: Community itself really plays the biggest role in that they know that attending these events helps to find various things in the school which will benefit their children.

Each member of the REF board also plays an integral part in some way, shape or form in planning or running the close to 10 events. The diversity of the board members' occupations and unique perspectives helps to create events that are fun for adults and kids.

CE: As a board, we have tried to make sure we offer events that appeal to everyone. Our biggest events are our Wine Tasting and Casino Night, also our longest-running events at 10+ years a piece. These are essentially our staple events. Casino Night, which typically takes place in November each year, essentially sets the tone for our fundraising year. Recently our Ladies Lunch has been extremely popular. We have an amazing venue and attendees who are so excited to get behind our cause. This event has been a welcome change to our lineup of fundraising events and could challenge our top two from a total fundraising perspective shortly. It's just an awesome way to wrap up the fundraising year for the REF. We also have some great community-type events. A chance for parents and in some cases their kids to come out and support the organization and have a great time. Events such as the NJ Devils game, Harlem Wizards, NY Yankees game, Whiskey Tasting, Cornhole Tournament at Rutherford Day, and the Fall Raffle.

TIR: What would you like the community to understand about their role in supporting REF fundraisers?

Leyla Kuznia (Vice President): Each year we are privileged to honor grants that provide resources that give our students resources beyond what the schools can provide. Our fundraising impacts all the schools in the district; a new audio system for the Rutherford High School auditorium, white-board desks for math rooms at Union School, and a sensory room for Pierrepont School, to name a few. These resources and capabilities improve the learning environment, offer new opportunities, and represent what we aim to provide as an organization. The REF is able to do all this because of the involvement of Rutherford School District families and the community.

Contributing to the REF can be done in many ways. We have ten fundraising events a year, so if you want to roll the dice at Casino Night, have a family day at a Yankees game, or improve your palette at Wine Tasting, we have an event for everyone to enjoy. We’re also always on the search for new sponsors, whose contributions help make all the events possible. If you’re the hands-on volunteer type, consider joining the REF and helping manage events and raise awareness of the REF and our mission.

Everyone in the REF either has or had children go to the Rutherford school system, and we are committed to giving current and future generations a continuously improving experience year and year. With the contributions, support, and involvement from the entire community, the REF will continue providing value and resources to the students of our town.

TIR: You are a teacher in another school district and you understand the resources that teachers need. Can you tell us more about how important it is to be able to provide teachers and staff with what they need to enhance the education of their students?

Christina Cole: I work in a district that does not have an education foundation or extra money in the budget that can provide additional resources for teachers and students. Teachers have to use platforms such as Donors Choose to request additional resources for their students and classrooms where we have to rely on family members, parents, and members of the community to fund our projects. Rutherford teachers have the opportunity to utilize the grant application to enhance the education of their students. The district might not have funds available in the budget to grant these requests whereas the REF can step in and help fund these projects.

Textiles Room at Rutherford High School. Photo credit: Rutherford Public Schools

TIR: What were some of the largest grants provided this year?

RF: The larger grants we funded this year were the upgrades of the Textiles room at RHS, the RHS 100 gym wall padding, the purchase of a marching band truck, and the family reading program at Lincoln and Washington schools. We funded grants for many notable projects throughout the district this year.

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