The ABC’s of Philanthropy
A simple conversation amongst friends sparked an initiative to support local teachers and the children they serve.
In the fall of 2020, Shannon Sinning was visiting with friends when he and Anna Reichel stumbled upon a conversation regarding the obstacles teachers in our district faced.
“I knew our teachers were struggling because of the barriers brought on by the pandemic, but I had no clue how much money out of their own pockets they used to help kids,” said Sinning.
Teachers spend on average $560 to support children and materials needed for classrooms—and it’s increasing every year. Sinning knew that teachers frequently purchase classroom items that the normal budget doesn’t cover; however, the biggest surprise was the amount spent for those unexpected needs.
“There are times when children may not have all the necessary school supplies. Then there are circumstances where they don’t have shoes, snowpants or snacks. The needs vary. Our teachers witness this every day and feel compelled to help.”
Sinning continued to ruminate on the conversation. Realizing that something needed to be done and he needed partners to spur action, he called up Laura Stevens.
“Shannon shared the idea of boosting the spirits of our teachers by including the community in a fundraising project. It radiated positivity…something that was desperately needed at the time,” said Stevens.
Together, they initiated "Help Teachers, Help Children” with a goal to give every elementary and special education classroom teacher in the Mankato Area Public Schools district $200 to utilize for student needs.
“We wanted to raise awareness and offer monetary relief for teachers but knew that there would be challenges for the district to add a line item to the budget. Tracking expenses can also be cumbersome for teachers and staff,” said Sinning. “We needed another partner.”
The pair reached out to Mankato Area Foundation (MAF) for assistance on the project. A fiscal sponsorship through the foundation provides a mechanism to collect and distribute funds. In addition to much needed back-office support, MAF’s expertise of the philanthropic community and connections would prove to be the push needed for the project.
“MAF is an established and trusted leader in the region. They have the experience bringing multiple projects to life. It was a natural addition to this endeavor,” said Stevens.
With all the players in place, they hit the pavement sharing the story with individuals and service clubs. It didn’t take long to find supporters to join the cause.
“This idea resonated with people. The story was sweet, and people felt good supporting it,” said Stevens.
The Help Teachers, Help Children Fund reached its goal in December by raising over $42,000. Superintendent Paul Peterson accepted a check from Nancy Zallek, President and CEO of MAF, at the December School Board meeting.
“I was stunned. We’ve always known that nationwide, teachers will give their own money to help students. I’m grateful that there are community members here that identified how big of a need it is at this time…and that they did something collectively to help. It’s remarkable,” said Peterson.
Looking to the future, Sinning and Stevens would like to see the fund grow enough to support teachers working in early childhood through high school in the district.
“This is only the beginning,” said Sinning.