Four Rivers Cultural Center was one of nine organizations receiving a grant to help kids from ages 5-18 with their summer learning. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

ONTARIO – Nine organizations in Malheur County received a total of $318,958 from the Oregon Community Foundation to help kids ages 5-18 learn over the summer.

The foundation also awarded $40,000 for other summer programs in Malheur County for early childhood learners. 

The learning grants went to organizations that either had experience in offering extracurricular youth programs or were partnering with another organization that did. 

Maureen Kenney, public relations manager for the Oregon Community Foundation, said that 56% of grantees serve rural communities. 

“Close to 40% of Oregon students attend schools in rural communities and, due to geographic isolation and resource constraints, many have little access to summer programming,” said Belle Cantor, the foundation’s senior program officer for education.

A second focus of the grants was reaching youth of color. 

“Black, Indigenous and other communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the current crises and these communities already experienced significant educational disparities,” Cantor said. “Through these grants, it is critical that we prioritize reaching programs that serve youth of color to help mitigate educational disparities.”

The three largest grants in Malheur County went to the Boys & Girls Club of the Western Treasure Valley, Four Rivers Cultural Center and the Malheur Education Service District. 

The Boys & Girls Club, which received $75,000, used the money to fund “10 weeks of over nine hours of services; any extra food not covered by the Summer Food Service Program, staffing, transportation, field trips, program supplies, and general operating expenses,” according to Dana Castellani, its chief executive officer. 

Castellani said the organization intended to use the grant funds by the end of the year.

“We were able to provide a summer program that met our objectives – provide programs that focus on academic success, social-emotional learning, healthy lifestyles, and character and leadership,” Castellani said. 

Four Rivers Cultural Center, which received $60,000, used the money to fund personalized museum tours, Friday story hours, Pop-Up Parks, activity boxes, art classes, and Covid quarantine support. 

Matt Stringer, executive director of the cultural center, said that the summer programs had been extremely successful, involving more than 4,000 children. 

Stringer said that participation in the cultural center’s programs mirrored local demographics, with more than 40% of children in poverty and more than 70% from Latinx families.

“We source foster, juvenile justice, refugee, immigrant, migrant, differently abled, English second language, single parent household, distressed family and hyper rural (15 miles from a school or a town) children,” he said. “We encourage children of little to no means to participate in our programming. Serving marginalized children successfully is our reward and a fantastic use of OCF’s funds.”

Remaining money will be used for Halloween programming. 

The Malheur Education Service District received $38,604 for its Frontier STEM Hub, which provides science, technology, engineering and math programming for local students.

Nickie Shira, STEM and innovation coordinator, said that so far, $12,604 has been spent and that the remaining money will be used for “extending Maker Space opportunities to youth beyond the regular school day and providing STEM enrichment to youth and families through community events.”

In the summer, the STEM Hub partnered with other groups to create an aviation career exploration academy for high schoolers, a collaborative workspace with access to tools for students in summer school, and STEM in the park and other community events. 

“I didn't know what I wanted to do as a career and nothing interested me enough to do it my whole life,” said a student who participated in the aviation program. “When I came here I had never thought of aviation as a career and didn't know what to expect. I am glad I signed up because this was an eye opener for me and I am going to pursue aviation as my career thanks to

this program.”

Oregon Community Foundation officials said that the summer programming they funded would hopefully lead to youth having increased engagement with their education. 

“Given the crises over the last year, this summer has been a critical time to nurture and mentor children in our state,” said Max Williams, foundation president. “OCF is proud to have delivered much-needed support to disproportionately impacted families and communities across Oregon.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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