Sonoma County teachers turning to DonorsChoose.org for classroom funds

  • First grade teacher Kristina Reguero Garrison works with Ana Sanchez, left, and Anthony De Torres on a math lesson using an abacus at Flower School in Sonoma on Friday, September 27, 2013. The abaci were a donation to Garrison's classroom. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

When Sonoma Valley teacher Kristina Reguero Garrison asks, people deliver. And she counts complete strangers among her supporters.

Since 2006, the Flowery Elementary School first grade teacher has pitched 44 projects on the education fundraising web site DonorsChoose.org, 42 of which were fully funded by donor contributions.

"It's empowering," Reguero Garrison said of the charity site. "You don't have to wait for the funding to come down. You have an idea and if people like the idea, they fund it."

There are currently 24 pitches from Sonoma County teachers on DonorsChoose.org, proposing nearly $13,000 in classroom projects.

The site, launched in 2000 by a teacher in New York City who began pitching his classroom project ideas to potential donors, has generated $194 million in project funding from 1.2 million donors. The funds have affected 9.5 million students, according to the organization which has earned the highest possible rating from nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator.

Teachers can post the parameters of their project or need, itemize their request from a list of selected vendors and post online a total financial request. Donors can then give as little as $1 toward the project. If the total isn't reached in the alotted time, donors can redirect their funds to another project, save them for a later donation or give the money directly to the teacher.

"This year, we expect 250,000 individual donors," said former school teacher Melanie Duppins, who is now senior director of policy and learning for DonorsChoose.org. "A lot of that has to do with people really sympathizing with teachers and not really knowing what they can do, but wanting to do something. We tend to be that something."

The pitch also includes a description of the school, including its students' poverty level. Those profiles are largely outdated, Dubbins said, and DonorsChoose.org is exploring updating the categories.

Duppins countered claims that help sought through programs like DonorsChoose.org is akin to asking teachers to beg for supplies.

"Our response to that is we exist right now because of what is, not because of what could or should be," she said. "The truth is, this is what teachers need right now and right now you can still do something about it."

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