Legacy Foundation supports Moorhead kids, teachers in multiple ways

Moorhead Legacy Education Foundation chair Janelle Leiseth presented a check for $25,000 to Superintendent of Schools Brandan Lunak. The grant, earmarked for Food for Thought, was funded during Giving Hearts Day 2022. Food For Thought provides milk and snacks to students on food assistance programs.

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Scholarships come to mind first when the Moorhead Legacy Education Foundation’s name comes up. Fair enough: The Moorhead Area Education Foundation, which merged with Legacy in 2020, has given out some $2 million to 2,000 MHS grads since its founding in 1990/

But today’s foundation, formed when MAEF joined forces with the much younger Moorhead Schools Legacy Foundation, continues to do much more — carrying out the late Supt. Lynne Kovash’s vision of helping to feed hungry kids and inspiring teachers to innovate in their classrooms.

“Giving Hearts Day is always dedicated to supporting Food for Thought, the program that Lynne envisioned,” says chair Janelle Leiseth. “Back in 2016, she was looking for a way to provide snacks and milk to students who qualified for food assistance. But she had no way to fund it.”

The original Moorhead Legacy Foundation emerged the next year. An independent nonprofit, it was created to fill that need, one that has only grown since then. “When we began, about one-third of Moorhead students were on food programs,” Leiseth says. “This year, it has grown to 40%. As Supt. Kovash knew, you can’t learn when you’re hungry.”

Next Thursday, gifts to the Legacy Education Foundation will focus on Food for Thought, now in its sixth year. A number of teachers also hold “penny wars” in their classrooms to benefit the fund, and private donations filter in throughout the year. According to the board chair, the foundation hopes to boost the $25,000 goal of previous years to $35,000, reflecting the growing number of hungry kids in Moorhead schools.

Meanwhile, Spud Scholars continues unabated. Student volunteers from Key Club, the National Honor Society and the MHS Student Council phone local supporters to raise funds. Depending on their success, along with donations and investment income, more than 90 graduating seniors will share from $90,000 to $100,000 in scholarships at graduation in June. In addition, four grads currently in college will receive grants. The awards are based on both merit and need.

Along with snacks and scholarships, the Moorhead Legacy Education Foundation supports another initiative fulfilling Dr. Kovash’s dream. “She wanted to make sure we reached all of our students in some way,” Leiseth points out.

Kovash, who died in 2019, planted the seed for Spud Impact Grants. The foundation welcomes applications from educators and staff throughout the school system to support innovative ideas in academics, activities, arts and athletics — “the kinds of things that often come out of the teachers’ pockets,” Leiseth notes. Most funding comes from donations and pass-through funding; memorials also play a large part, including those for Kovash herself. One of the two endowed memorial grants is named for her; the other honors Irene Olsen. Two other Spud Impact endowments are named for Kirsten Johnson and Steve Connelly.

The grants, which can total from $3,000 to $11,000 in a given year, are creative and wide-ranging in their scope. In 2022, for example, 22 projects were selected for funding. Among recent grants: books for libraries in classrooms, tools for teaching phonics and math, posters showing diverse students for the library, a hallway mural designed and painted by students, a maker space and art tools, supplies to start a middle-school Chinese club, and a hydroponic system at the Career Academy.

The foundation also seeks support for other good ideas. A recent $10,000 grant from the Alex Stern Family Foundation, Leiseth says, will be used to prevent truancy by helping with transportation needs within the one-mile radius where buses don’t pick up students. Among its possible applications are heavy cold-weather clothing for those who walk to school and alarm clocks for kids whose parents leave for work long before they get up — “steps that can help prevent shame,” she adds. “School is where every student deserves to feel warmth and caring.” The program will launch later this year.

Both the ongoing Spud history project, expected to culminate in a 150th anniversary book later this year, and the Spud History Wall at the high school are also Moorhead Legacy Foundation projects.

In addition to the Stern Foundation, several other philanthropic sources have contributed to the foundation and its projects, including the Minnesota Historical Society (for the history book), AGRI Farm to School Rapid Response (providing fresh local produce), West Central Initiative Resiliency Fund, , Ag Country Farm Services, and MHS class reunions.

Leiseth herself has been involved in the Legacy Foundation since 2018. It’s governed by an all-volunteer board of directors, along with Supt. Brandon Lunak and school board member Cassidy Bjorklund. Like the majority of board members, Leiseth and her husband Matt have a personal stake in the Moorhead schools; two daughters have already graduated from MHS, while another is in 8th grade and their son is a sophomore.

In addition to the annual fall SpudTacular Gala, the scholarship phonathon and Giving Hearts Day, the foundation gets support from memorials, businesses that match gifts made by their employees, estates and bequests, and class reunions. School district faculty and employees can pitch in through the 152 Club, signing up for monthly payroll deductions of $12.67.

Find out more about the Moorhead Legacy Education Foundation, go to www.moorheadlegacy.org. Giving Hearts Day contributions, which qualify for matching gifts, can be made at www.givingheartsday.org.

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