Walters Family Foundation

SMART Fundraising

by Cliff Walters President

Reading AS a Kid

In packing for a recent move to our current location in Oxnard, CA, I came across a long, narrow tablet on which were printed words from my spelling tests given in 3rd grade.  I rarely missed a word, but I had to study them carefully.  I also had learned to “sound out” the words, and then learn the idiosyncrasies of some sounds such as the “F” sound in “Found” could also be spelled “PH” as in “Phone.”  We were exposed to a reading contest throughout the year to see who could read the most books.  I loved biographies especially of presidents and inventors.  I learned a lot, and my reading didn’t require pushing by my parents.  TV was a rarity in my day and digital media hadn’t even been thought about, so reading was a natural diversion.

But what about kids who don’t get that early exposure to reading books, or having someone read to them, or helping them understand concepts in books?  What about kids who don’t have a nurturing, caring environment?  The outcomes are not so good, especially if the parent screams at the kid who didn’t bring home the “good grades.”

Reading TO a Kid

Reading early to kids has been shown to improve academic performance later in life among many other benefits.  Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) is a reading program proposed by then Governor Neil Goldschmidt in 1991 where volunteerstake a small time out of their week to read to school kids in participating schools.  The program is now in its 26th year with many alums coming back to read to the next generations of kids.  Over 199,000 kids have experienced reading with their mentor. Over 2.5 million books have been given away.  Wow!  Witness their program for yourself.

Raising SMART Money

But this takes money and the SMART team knows just how to raise funds at their annual gala, which I had the opportunity to attend.  

A large banquet room was rented in the Portland Art Center.  Interestingly, they had the front stage replete with a stage, podium and video capacity.  But centered in the room was a smaller raised stage.  When the program began, the emcee, who was a reporter from a local TV station, gave some opening remarks and then tossed the program to the center stage in the room of 500 excited people.  A gregarious auctioneer began calling for bids!  Places to go, trips to take, tours of Oregon, custom clothes, wine and more were up for bid.

The exciting auction had planned interruptions for stories, young kids being introduced from the front stage, readers who emotionally told their stories of reading to kids, kids reading to the audience, showing of emotionally charge short videos, and ending with an awards ceremony for the best readers. 

The paddle auction had people raising their “numbers” that had previously been tied to their credit cards to just plain give money to SMART.  Bids started at $25,000 and ended at the $300 mark.  Many paddles were raised.  Corporate sponsorships were used to underwrite the evening. 

Chris Otis, the Executive Director, with who had invited me to sit with her and her husband, Jon, gave a few words to the audience.  To witness this fast-paced evening was nothing short of exhausting, but resulted raising over a half million dollars for SMART!  One would think you could then go home, but that is just when the “After Party” began in another venue equally as large on the 3rd floor above the gala room.  More food, entertainment, dancing, wine, and of course additional opportunities to donate were available. 

Start Making A Reader Today is a SMART Program

SMART knows their program is important for kids, for the readers, for the staff, and for the givers.  Everyone is touched by this SMART program, and lives are changed.  Money is needed to administer the program and train the volunteers.  But all those involved “get it,” and because of their change, their purses and wallets are opened and fundraising is completed “SMARTly.”   $500,000 for one evening’s work just AIN’T bad, AND reading took on a new meaning for me!