A Foundation for Learning: Making a difference at Ottawa Township High School - The Times: Local

A Foundation for Learning: Making a difference at Ottawa Township High School

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2012 11:11 am

Two years ago, teachers and students at Ottawa Township High School wanted to bring alive their study of Mark Twain's novel "Huckleberry Finn."

When they decided floating a replica of Huck's raft on the Fox River would be the way to do it, the OTHS Foundation provided the funds.

Ottawa attorney Anita Kopko, then a member of the nine-member foundation board and now a member of the OTHS school board, voted against funding the project.

"I thought it was a silly waste of money," she recalled for The Times.

But she changed her mind when she watched from her office in the Central Life Building as the raft was launched and began its short journey.

"I have to say, it looked like a ton of fun," she said.

"It's cool that we didn't just read the book," student Kelli Nelson said at the time. "It was actually a hands-on experience."

Formed in 1993, the foundation directs private funds donated to the school toward special teaching projects and equipment purchases.

"It's for the things that might be considered extras," said Kopko, who spent two three-year terms on the foundation board — the maximum before a member has to take a break from service.

The foundation provides mini-grants for things teachers and administrators can't get through the regular school budget, but would be beneficial if they had, Kopko said.

"Sometimes it's equipment, but sometimes it's a guest speaker," Kopko said. "Sometimes it's an opportunity to go to an event and other times to bring an event here that the students would not otherwise have had an opportunity to see."

The foundation also was, and continues to be, a guiding force in the school's Hall of Fame, which was established in 2007 and has annual inductions, she said.

The funds for these projects come from donations.

"We've had some really, really generous people make gifts to the foundation that I think really makes a difference in the lives of the students," Kopko said. "We had a couple of families remember us in their wills that gave us substantial amounts of money and in response we named the Spangler & Scherer Courtyard after those two families."

Fundraising efforts are low-key, she said, and modest donations also are important. For instance, there is the opportunity to buy an inscribed brick for the school's courtyard for $100. When alumni visit during the school during class reunions they are provided with flyers explaining how they can buy a brick or sponsor a more ambitious donation, Kopko noted. For example, a bench is $3,000.

An upcoming fundraiser is the auction of an original painting of the school building now being completed by artist Charles Funk of Wide Water Gallery in Ottawa, said Sam Miceli, foundation president. Prints of the painting also will be available for sale, he said.

Miceli, general manager of Vactor Manufacturing in Streator, was recruited to provide representation from the Milton Pope School area.

Originally from Chicago, his children have attended OTHS, but Miceli said his exposure to the school was chiefly with its sports program.

Through his foundation work, Miceli developed an appreciation for how deeply the high school and community are intertwined.

"For instance, even though it's really driven by the high school, the arts programs is something that the foundation supports in various forms and fashions — and it is amazing to be part of that.

"When there's a play or music program there's a big turnout by the community — I didn't see that when I went to high school in the city at Lane Tech," he said.

So when the foundation provided money to improve the sound system in the school's auditorium Miceli said he could see it actually was something not only for the students but for the entire community.

"I kind of describe the foundation as Christmas, and we're Santa Claus," he said. "We get to take private money and find the ways to help teachers and fund things that otherwise couldn't be funded — so we're always full of good news.

"It's a great feeling to be part of that and a member of what is really a pretty impressive group of people."

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