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Bridging the gap for disadvantaged students with MACU Pay It Forward

Tim Toy with Mountain America Credit Union greets Britteny Gardner of the West Ada Foundation with a $500 Pay It Forward.

“A lot of our kindergartners come to our school with a wide variety of needs,” explained Jason Newell, the principal at Ustick Elementary School.

And some of those needs have nothing to do with reading, writing and arithmetic.

That’s where the West Ada Education Foundation comes in. Through a program called “Bridging the Gap,” it can provide what a school district cannot, helping meet basic needs of students who come from low income homes, or no home at all.

Foundation money is used to eliminate anything that is a barrier to learning.

Foundation Chairwoman Britteny Gardner said, “Kids should come to school with a full belly, with a warm breakfast, with access to lunch and meals because if ... those initial needs aren't met, they really can't learn.

“I serve the foundation because I know the impact of the money that we bring in and how it changes the lives of students.”

And meeting basic needs goes beyond food.

“We have data that shows when kids are well fed, taken care of, they obviously do better academically and that's what we want in our school.” Principal Newell continued, “They also provide things like eye glasses, doctor's visits, counseling sessions, so they give a lot to our school. It really is truly the definition of what a community is all about.”

The foundation’s work extends beyond elementary school. In high schools in the West Ada District, Social Worker Molly Patchin sees students who are homeless. The foundation’s “Housing + High School = Success” project contributes $100 a month for rent if the student is attending classes consistently and has passing grades.

Patchin explains that money can bring stability to their lives. “So, they don't have to couch surf to find a place to stay. They know they have a set place to go every night. They don't have to worry about that. So, they can focus on school, work and other things they need to do so they can graduate.”

Last year, “We had ten kids participate in our program. Ten out of our ten students graduated,” Patchin said. And of those ten, seven either had been accepted to a college or had a job offer.

“It's amazing,” said Anne Edwards. “The foundation is extremely supportive of us and our role as social workers in the district. It just makes our job easier because we have ways to provide for students and families basic needs.”

The foundation cannot guarantee a student’s success. Nothing can. But it can and does eliminate the barriers to that success.

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