Budget crunches always mean making the choice to cut programs that benefit our students, or, preferably, working to find the funds elsewhere. There is one person in RSU 18 who does an amazing job of locating and obtaining the grants and awards to fund the programs that truly make our district stand out, RSU 18 School Health Coordinator Claire Heffernan.
“When teachers have a good idea for kids that didn’t get funding in the budget, they usually reach out to Claire to help them find the money,” said Superintendent Carl Gartley, “and if there is any way, Claire delivers.”
Ms. Heffernan also reaches out to staff members to help identify needs in each building. MHS Librarian Sylvia Jadczak has worked on several grants with Ms. Heffernan over the years, including grants that procured exercise ball chairs and a pedal desk for students and staff to use in the library. “Claire inspires staff to write grants that help students and teachers improve their health and wellbeing,” said Ms. Jadczak. “She likes to match grants to faculty members in need and give the schools ownership of the programs and grant writing opportunities.” Ms. Jadczak went on to say that her work with Claire has had a beneficial impact on other grant writing she does for the school as well.
Prior to working for RSU 18, Ms. Heffernan was a School Health Coordinator for Healthy Maine Partnerships. Since moving into her current position in 2011, she has helped the district procure over one million dollars in grant money across all levels and all areas of the curriculum.
The grants she has helped write have included money for our gardens and greenhouses, our cafeterias, playgrounds, town sidewalks and school trails; they’ve gone to fund education in health, science, physical education, civil rights, and cooking; they’ve funded field trips, literacy books, and school renovations. This year alone, with Claire’s help, MMS received a garden shed and BCS received funding for their Reading Garden through the Lowe’s Toolbox for education. CMS got a youth literacy grant from Dollar General for $4000 and Nutrition Director Will Hamilton got the Fresh Fruit and vegetable grants for ATW and WES this year with Claire’s help. Thanks to Claire, the Maine Substance Abuse Coalition awarded funds to MMS, CMS, and MHS to support Prevention Education for 5 years, and the Oak Grove Foundation continues to fund multiple projects at MHS.
“These grants have provided our students with many learning opportunities that are not funded by the regular school budget,” said MHS Health and PE teacher Beth Prelgovisk. “Without these grants, the students would not get these enriching and educational experiences.” Mrs. Prelgovisk has worked with Ms. Heffernan since 2001 in a variety of capacities. She says that Ms. Heffernan was her “Go To” person for grant writing the funds for a 18×28 greenhouse for Messalonskee High School.
“She helped me acquire over 20,000 dollars in grant money that fulfilled the mission of 8 High School girls who wanted to learn how to grow food on their own,” she said. What started with that grant has since grown into an active Greenhouse Garden Club that has managed to add 12 raised beds, two apple trees, 10 blueberry bushes and two grow towers in just 3 years.
Ms. Heffernan also mentored students in the grant writing process. Several grants are only available to student applicants as a way to get youth involved in advocating for their community. Grant topics have included mentoring younger children in nutrition awareness, increasing drunk driving awareness, and stopping hunger. “Claire would work with the students to help them formulate ideas and to answer any questions they had about the grant,” said Mrs. Prelgovisk. “She even prepared a group for a phone conference call with the grant directors. This is a wonderful skill for students to have as they leave our high school.”
Claire Heffernan is an incredible asset to our district. Her knowledge, experience, and wide range of connections around the state provide us with opportunities we would otherwise not be aware of. Her willingness to listen to staff members needs, and her determination to find a way to get the funds needed, provide our children with safer, healthier, and more enriching schools.
Thank you, Claire, for all you do.
written by Mandi Favreau