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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Waterford Country School needs public support to survive another 100 years

    Waterford ― While it celebrates its centennial anniversary, Waterford Country School is thinking about the next 100 years.

    In order to fund the next century of educational and childcare advancements, the school has set up its first-ever endowment campaign, dubbed the “Centennial Endowment Campaign.” The goal of the campaign is to raise $2.5 million as a way to strengthen the school’s financial security, support upgrades to the campus and new programs while reducing the dependency on state funding, the school said.

    To date, the school has raised $1.16 million for the campaign in the last year, but has not yet opened it up to public donors. Once the school does so, anyone will be able to contribute funds to help the school continue to work with children and animals in need.

    The school said that only the interest gained on the endowment, not the principle funds, will be spent.

    “The endowment is to help fund the programs for the children,” Ray Currier said, a three-year member of the Board of Trustees who is in charge of the campaign. “To help new and innovative educational programs here at the school. To help fund the physical plant. To help make sure we have a high-performing work force that can deliver these services to the students.”

    Currier explained that though this is the school’s first endowment campaign, it actually “accidentally“ started an endowment fund when former board member, and editorial page editor at The Day, Ken Grube, and his wife Carolyn, donated $1.5 million prior to his death in 1997. Currier called the donation ”the seed that planted the endowment.“

    Though he said the funds were invested properly and more than $1 million in interest has been used on school projects, the size of the endowment has not kept up with the school’s needs.

    Waterford Country School works with children who suffer from social and educational challenges and offers 10 different programs. These include: therapeutic boarding school, special education, residential treatment, mental health clinic, emergency shelter, wildlife rehabilitation, outdoor education, summer camp, therapeutic foster care and a quality parenting center.

    Former CEO and current board member, Bill Martin, explained the school is a place to learn why children and families are struggling, instead of vilifying them. He compared the school to an old saying: “If you plant lettuce and it doesn’t grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce.”

    But providing those services to 82 students, 72 foster care children, 200 animals and 382 families can be difficult to do on public funding from the state and local municipalities, school officials said. The school does receive funding from the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) for the foster care program, but even that does not cover the pay for a program administrator.

    The rescued animals are serviced entirely on grants, donations and the interest accrued from the current endowment, at a six-figure cost, Martin said.

    Martin added that while the cost to operate goes up, so does the demand for the services. He said, in the state, truancy is increasing, juvenile crime is on the climb while more kids are going missing. Martin said the need for juvenile care, like what Waterford Country School provides, is nearly endless, as other providers have closed their doors due to costs.

    Former student and current second-vice chair on the board of trustees, Kathy Jacques said she has seen the school’s transformation over the years. Though she wasn’t there in 1922 when Henry and Ettie Schacht first opened their home as a school, she was there in 1967, two years before the school was officially named “Waterford Country School.”

    Jacques said she’s seen the school evolve through three eras. Before she arrived on campus, the school was run primarily out of the Schachts’ home in Quaker Hill. This is where everyone lived like a family, a way of creating one for those who previously didn’t have one, she said.

    Then, the school transitioned to a board of trustees in 1969 and began to use different behavior models.

    With a new school building built in 2004 and a new gymnasium in 2014 came the “Modern Era” said Jacques, who has sat on the board for the last 31 years. The school is in the early stages looking into expanding its school building again due to demand and Jacques said they are going to need the community to support them if the school is going to be around for another 100 years.

    “This community has been supporting (Waterford Country School) since the founding family found it,” she said.

    Today, the school is known as the first credited school in Cornell University’s CARE model and is considered one of the premier agencies to use the program, Martin said. CARE stands for “Children and Residential Experiences” that uses a child’s entire environment to improve positive outcomes in their care. Martin said the school works with agencies around the globe in this program as they partner with the children in their recovery.

    “It’s a privilege for us to be able to step into the lives of kid and a family when they’re at their worst and help them find their way out,” Martin said. “That’s what we do everyday.”

    But Martin, Currier and Jacques all are aware of the challenges that lay ahead. Martin explained that the current goal of $2.5 million only covers 1% to 2% of the school’s operating costs, when it should be between 25% and 30%. Currier said that, while they will need “many times” more than their current goal, they know they cannot ask more of their current support system. Jacques said they don’t have the same type of alumni that universities have that can give back in the same capacity, so they rely on a grass-roots effort to get the public involved.

    “It’s about the kids that you’re supporting and the lives that you’re changing,” Jacques said.

    To help promote the endowment campaign, the school has also created a “Legacy Society” that allows donors to donate to the school in their wills, but have their contributions recognized while they are still alive. The donors gather on occasions to celebrate their contributions and to learn about what the funds will go toward, Martin explained.

    The school said it has 12 donors name the school in their wills, which has helped in the early-stages of fundraising.

    “Legacy Society is about creating a personal legacy for your family that lasts in perpetuity to do good work,” Currier said.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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