MSEF celebrates 20 years of enriching local students’ lives this Saturday night, Sept. 29, at its annual Live and Silent Auction at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center. Admission includes wine and beer, hors d’oeuvres, dessert, coffee and entertainment, and the opportunity to bid on items ranging from a one-week stay at Cat Island in the Bahamas to a year’s worth of designer doughnuts or the meat from one whole yak (that’s right, a whole yak!).
MSEF was established in 1992. Its main founders were Steve Arnold and the late Rich Tisdel, who at the time presided over the Ridgway School Board and Ouray School Board respectively. Other founding board members included Gary Wade, Rev. Jim Peterson, Dave Wood, David Bachman, M.D. and the late Gen. John Hay.
Each founding member contributed seed money from his own pockets to establish the nascent foundation’s endowment.
“They realized that we live in a geographically fabulous area that is quite remote,” explained longtime MSEF President Glynn Williams of Ouray, who recently retired from nine years of service on the board and is widely acknowledged as its historian. “The idea was to put together programs to give Ouray County students exposure to the outside world, by going on field trips or bringing people in. They realized, there just wasn’t the money within the school districts to finance this sort of thing.”
Twenty years later, MSEF’s goal is still basically the same – to involve the Ouray County community in developing resources to enrich students’ lives and broaden their educational experiences.
From Ridgway students’ participation in the Colorado Ambassadors of Music Europe Tour to Ouray High School’s annual Washington DC and Paris trips, MSEF has been spectacularly successful in its mission of sending students out into the world.
Conversely, it has also expanded the world for students right here in Ouray County by fostering enrichment opportunities. Just this week, for example, elementary students from Ridgway and Ouray enjoyed a visit from children’s book luminary Laurie Keller, the author/illustrator of Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters, Scrambled States of America and other popular children’s books, thanks in part to MSEF funding.
Project proposals are virtually always brought forth by a teacher, and vetted by a school representative prior to being presented to MSEF. They are considered twice a year, in November and March. Students benefitting from MSEF-funded expeditions must help with some of the fundraising to pay for their trip, and are often expected to come back and share what they learned in a presentation to the MSEF board.
“It is phenomenal to see how much they get out of it,” Williams said. “Particularly those kids who could never in a month of Sundays hope to have that experience on their own. I get the greatest kick out of that part. I’m very keen on MSEF’s original premise of opening student’s eyes to the opportunities outside this little valley here.”
In recent years, MSEF’s role in the schools has become more crucial as state financing for public education has dwindled in response to the recession.
But through it all, Williams has remained adamant about one thing. “Our job is not to subsidize the schools’ capital expenses,” he stressed. “To a person we have resisted that, and it’s never happened. We’re not here to subsidize the tax payers. We should be an adjunct to the school districts that allows programs to occur that the school district couldn’t otherwise afford to do.”
MSEF currently hosts four major annual fundraisers: its Live and Silent Auction (coming up this Saturday), the Mt. Sneffels Marathon/Half-Marathon in August, a community trivia bowl in February, and an annual spring fundraising drive.
Last year MSEF raised over $90,000 and distributed over $50,000 to a total of 36 projects in Ouray and Ridgway schools. The remainder of the money went into its endowment, which continues to grow and may one day become self-sustaining.
But in the meantime, for MSEF to be able to continue giving, the community has to continue giving as well. Which is why Williams hopes for a robust turnout at this Saturday’s soiree.
Admission to the Mt. Sneffels Silent/Live Auction is $35 per person in advance, or $40 the day of the event, and $350 for a reserved table seating for 10 people. To secure a ticket or to reserve one of the few remaining tables for the auction, contact Rebecca Mueller at 956-605-9875. Those who are interested in an early look at the auction items (or who are unable to attend the event), may visit the online auction site at www.biddingforgood.com/msefauction.
For more information about Mt. Sneffels Education Foundation, visit www.mtsneffels.org.