The Rochester Education Foundation (REF) was launched in 2003 to create tangible ways to help city school students become more successful. Its founders were determined to be independent of the Rochester City School District and apolitical, with a focus on helping students in city schools become successful adults.
Photo: Ken Huth
Our goal is to fill the gaps between what our kids need and what district funding allows.
REF was modeled after school foundations that exist around the country. Indeed, more than 90 urban areas have their own school foundations. Locally, school foundations help students in Brighton, Greece, Pittsford, Rush-Henrietta and West Irondequoit.
REF became part of Rochester Area Community Foundation Initiatives in 2003. In 2004, REF played a role in gathering funds to pay for school nurses after the County Legislature voted to eliminate funding midway through the school year.
In 2005, REF offered its first community project, Spring for Music, a drive to collect musical instruments for city school students. The drive was extremely successful, surpassing its goal of collecting 250 instruments. More than 400 instruments were collected during the month-long drive, and REF continues to receive instruments today. To date, more than 1,100 instruments have been collected. The instruments are then donated to the city school district for students.
In late 2005, REF received 501(c)(3) status as an independent not-for-profit. With a board in place, the organization left Rochester Area Community Foundation Initiatives in February 2006, and became fully independent.
In 2006, REF offered Give Back, Give Books, a community-wide books drive through which more than 10,000 new books were given to city school libraries and city school students to take home. REF continues to accept new book donations through its Give Back, Give Books program.
2006 also saw REF host its first annual Partnership Awards Dinner to recognize community partnerships with Rochester city school district students.
In 2008-2009, REF developed a pilot project, Recipe for Success, a community effort to promote literacy, healthy eating, and food-related careers through cooking activities. The program focused on third, seventh, and ninth graders in the Rochester City School District. Curriculum developed for the project continues to be available.
2008-2009 also saw two partnership with the Victor-based Buddies, Bridges and Brains, one in which suburban classrooms partnered with city classrooms to promote learning and positive interactions, and a book distribution project in which books and blankets were given to nearly 4,000 young students at the holidays.
In 2009, REF launched its competitive book application process called Teachers' Choice. Educators working with city school students can apply for up to 200 books apiece. This continuing program has awarded more than 35,000 new books to students through creative, teacher-led literacy projects.
In June 2010, REF began a collaboration with the Rochester Chapter of the National Academy Foundation. With local businesses, including the Rochester Red Wings, ESL Federal Credit Union, and many others, REF has helped coordinate a quality summer internship program for city students.
From 2010 to 2015, REF focused on two different types of programs: its primary programs supporting literacy, music opportunities and college access; and programs for which REF has fiduciary responsibility as an umbrella program. These include the fund supporting the Dr. Walter Cooper Academy, School #10, the Friends of the World of Inquiry School, and the fund for the Wilson Outdoors Club. Also supported is the Music Through the Ages program at School 19.
REF's support for music has developed into Spring for Music Opportunities. This program continues to provide musical intruments to city students through the collection of used instruments. But it also helps to support everything from summer music lessons for students to the presentation of new musical instruments to a small number of college-bound city students, and music performance opportunities.
Additionally, in 2013 REF helped launch the Rochester College Access Network, a community collaborative providing communication, coalition and advocacy to support college access for our city students. The group is a program of REF. It provides FAFSA Fest events helping city students submit their federal financial aid application. It also supports 10th-grade college tours for city students, and a website focused on Rochester students interested in college: RochesterCan.org