Submitted by North Thurston Education Foundation
The North Thurston Education Foundation (NTEF) is a nonprofit whose work centers on empowering the futures of North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS) students. Deanna East, who stepped into the role of executive director of NTEF on August 1, is eager to helm the mobilization of financial resources, community partnerships and volunteers to enhance educational opportunities and enrich programs for NTPS students, staff and faculty.
A former NTPS employee, Deanna has worked in public education for 20 years. She supported students experiencing homelessness as a health room assistant at Timberline High School, then served as a McKinney Vento Homeless Student navigator at the NTPS district office. (The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law that helps ensure children and youth experiencing homelessness have access to public education regardless of their circumstances.) When she heard Michael Jones, NTEF’s executive director since 2017, was retiring from the role, she knew she had to apply. “I have always admired what the Foundation does,” Deanna explains. “I knew this was where my heart had led me.”
Deanna is visibly proud of the ways NTEF enhances the lives of NTPS students. “We offered $350,000 in support for NTPS students last year,” Deanna says. “That’s a huge deal.” These funds ensure that any student who is eligible for free and reduced lunch won’t be charged for after-school activities. The funds pay for ASB cards, dances, planners, and other tools for success and meaningful experiences. NTEF funds pay for clothing, shoes, food, and sundries so that students experiencing homelessness or poverty have a better chance of covering basic necessities, succeeding in school, and thriving post-graduation.
NTEF plays a critical role in maintaining the district’s Family and Youth Resource Center (FYR Center), where students and families can go for assistance with clothing, school supplies, and hygiene products. They can also help discreetly purchase necessary items to remove barriers for a student in need. By ensuring that assistance is seamlessly integrated into the educational environment, their work upholds the dignity of those in need and paves the way for an inclusive and compassionate community.
NTEF’s support extends beyond the NTPS kindergarten through 12th grade experience. They offer numerous scholarships, including 22 named scholarships, that provide financial support to deserving students pursuing their educational aspirations. A recent recipient of the Alex Ward Memorial Scholarship is finishing his second year at Dickinson State University. “I feel very honored that the Foundation continues to support me in my college experience,” writes Joseph Oliver, a recent graduate of North Thurston High School. “It has allowed me to focus more on nursing school and wrestling.” Joseph earned a 4.0 GPA and a place on the President’s List in both the fall and spring semesters this past school year.
“I can personally think of times when the Foundation has helped to stop the intergenerational poverty and homelessness for a child by sustaining a student for these few years in school through graduation and into their college or career,” says Leslie Van Leishout, the district’s director of student support.
Leslie is eager to work with Deanna. “She has an amazing heart for kids and is already working on getting businesses in our area to be partners with NTEF,” Leslie explains. Brenda McAferty, the district’s McKinney Vento and foster care liaison, will also work closely with Deanna to remove barriers to student learning. “Deanna brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in advocating for students who have barriers to their education,” Brenda says.
Deanna is most excited to get the word out about what NTEF does for the NTPS community and how businesses and individuals can get involved. NTEF’s status as a 501(c)(3) enables the public to make tax-deductible donations. The Foundation’s annual luncheon will be held on October 27 at Indian Summer. The public is invited to attend and businesses are encouraged to consider sponsorship opportunities.
The Foundation also has volunteer opportunities for a wide range of skill sets. There are openings in the scholarship, event/fundraiser, and appreciation committees. They are seeking support with grant writing and office help. Lastly, they need “meet the need heroes,” individuals who have the time and monetary resources to procure and deliver essential supplies to school with little notice. If you’re interested in any of these opportunities, reach out to Deanna.
“When I talk about what the Foundation does for our district to others outside the district, they are truly amazed,” says Van Leishout. “The compassionate word, the culture of kindness, and the strength of character they give to our district is unparalleled.”