There are many good educational opportunities for students in the Oregon School District, but not all students can take advantage of them.

That’s when it helps to have some Friends.

The Friends of the Oregon School District, founded before the 2016-17 school year by five district moms, has started a new initiative this school year. The “Champions Fund” will provide funding for educational opportunities for students who might otherwise miss out. Group co-founder Christine Erickson called it an “experiential equity fund.”

“We’re trying to enhance learning relationships and connections for students,” she said.

There is a growing need for help, as well. Erickson said around 10 years ago, the number of OSD students qualifying for free or reduced lunch was around 5 percent. Today, it’s around 17 percent, more than 700 students.

The group met with administrative teams at each of the district’s six schools and was told that helping students fund educational experiences was the second-largest need, behind providing food and snacks for students. Requests for assistance are channeled through the school administrators to FOSD, who will approve or deny.

“It’s things like instrument rental, driver’s ed courses, ACT retake or pre-prep classes, senior pictures, yearbook, cap and gown, athletic equipment,” Erickson said, noting that the group already has several pending requests. “There’s all kinds of needs, based on the grade level.”

The Champions Fund plans to do more than pay for things. Erickson said the group is looking for professionals who can provide services to families in need – everything from pro bono legal or accounting services to personal care.

“We would love to get a volunteer base of people who are willing to occasionally pop in and help us with those types of things,” she said. “We’re looking for fundraising opportunities right now, because every part of this takes money.”

Erickson said providing educational opportunities for students can help them achieve their goals and dreams in ways they might not otherwise be able to.

“An ACT re-test, that’s a $100 fee, or if they can’t get the ACT score to get the scholarship they need for college without the prep course, that’s $800,” she said. “There’s some big-ticket, big-target items.

Continued programs

To help needy students, the Friends set up three programs last year, all of which will continue in the 2017-18 school year.

Adopt-a-Kid’s Lunch Balance solicits donations online to help cover negative balances of students in need, making a deposit in their child’s food service account through OSD’s Campus Portal. Healthy Snacks offers funding and snacks for students during the school day. And the Foodpack Project provides a backpack of food or gift cards for kids in need over school breaks.

Erickson said the first two snack deliveries of the year have arrived, and the first backpack drop-off is planned for later this month.

“All the schools are very, very thankful and say what a difference that makes in terms of their learners being able to focus on learning and not being hungry,” she said.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.