KOOSKIA — The need for more in their local schools brought two men together six years ago; however, the meeting relied on a relationship that was actually forged years before.

Kamiah’s Greg Drake, a now retired educator and 1965 alumnus of Clearwater Valley High School, and then-CVHS principal, Dave Harrington, Lowell, a Kamiah High graduate, had known each other for years.

“He had played football for me when he was in middle school,” Drake smiled.

Years prior when Harrington was a high school wrestling coach, Harrington said he met a guy from Long Island at the college nationals in Chapel Hill.

“He had his team there, all paid for by their foundation,” he recalled. “Alumni wrestlers and parents simply wired $10-$20 to their account. They went to the Hawaii Classic and everywhere.....all paid for.”

Harrington said he thought it was a great idea, but while working for years in the Seattle area at Sultan High School, they had enough money for “great sports facilities.”

“However, I kept the foundation idea in my head and when I came home and went to work at Clearwater Valley High School, I wanted to get a foundation started,” Harrington explained. “Our Kooskia community had lost a lot of their economic base — such as logging — so it was the ideal place to start a foundation.” Especially if they could access alumni who had moved away and done well, he added.

However, at the time, the district superintendent didn’t want there to be a competing source trying to raise funds when they needed to float a levy.

“But when I announced my retirement I got Elvin Pfefferkorn to help me and I got it under way,” Harrington said. “Elvin and Leo Robinett were on the original VEST board but have since passed away.”

“It” became VEST (Valley Educators Support Team), and the group first met more than three years ago and planned their first fund-raising event.

Current board members are Cindy Dahler, Veda Pfefferkorn, Lara Smith, Greg Drake, Kama Pfefferkorn, Kevin Dahler, Dwight Wicks, and Harrington.

“That first year we drew about 65 people,” Drake said. “By the second year, we had 135 people attend.” They made about $13,000 in those first two years together.

In March of this year, the third VEST event was held, which drew in 200 people and raised more than $20,000.

Drake said, “the momentum is strong, and we definitely feel like we are headed in the right direction.”

“VEST had a slow start but we were all passionate and determined,” Harrington said.

The main idea, he explained, is that people who care about CV schools will sign up to have money donated monthly and wired directly to the VEST account.

“We made a web site, built a Facebook page, got on reader boards and in newspapers, but it took a few years before people finally knew who we were and what we were about. We have been successful because we are a very transparent and sincere foundation,” he emphasized. “Every penny we raise goes to the children of CV schools. The foundation doesn’t keep any of the money. The board members are dedicated to helping children, and they work tirelessly all year. Their passion and determination has been the main reason for the success of VEST.”

“We have had tremendous support from the community and outlying areas, and have relied heavily on our alumni base,” Drake added.

“People and businesses and organizations have been wonderful about donating to the silent and live auctions,” board member Lara Smith stated.

Items for auction in the past years have included overnight stays in Coeur d’Alene and Grangeville, munition products from ATK, a Yellowstone package, steelhead trips, movie theater and ski hill passes and restaurant and food certificates.

Smith, who is the Clearwater Valley Elementary School librarian, and husband, Mike, a CVHS alumnus, have four daughters in the CV school system. She said funds from past VEST events have helped pay for a variety of things for the schools.

“We’ve been able to purchase Chromebooks and Kindles, a charging cart and headphones,” she said, “as well as assisting with girls basketball camp and a senior project to improve the high school stage.”

Smith said 100 percent of the profit from the festival goes to the schools. A big dream, she added, would be able to eventually resurface the CVHS track.

“We have a beautiful, perfect location, and I would love to see it utilized,” she said.

Harrington added they have been able to purchase calculators at the high school as well as books in all grades.

“We also provide scholarship money for the Ray Bowles Award and the Bud Springer Award,” he said. “We have raised money for more programs, but we have especially focused on improving technology for all the children. We hope to give them tech opportunities they would not normally be able to afford, technology that children in larger, wealthier schools already have and use. We don’t want the children in CV schools to fall behind in the tech world.”

Harrington’s youngest daughter, Mikel, attended and graduated from CV, so he knew first-hand the needs the schools faced.

This year, CVHS graduate Stephanie Duclos (A Taste of Art) catered the event. Each year, the group adds more partners who have graduated from or have deep ties to CV schools.

“Foundations such as VEST are extremely important to small rural schools like Clearwater Valley. The state is putting more and more local responsibility for funding on school districts. Larger districts with strong economic bases can pass levies. Small rural schools struggle with local funding because they don’t have the same economic base to draw from,” Harrington asserted. “VEST has been blessed with tremendous support from local families and businesses, but we can also access alumni who live in other towns and states. Last year we had donations from towns as far away as Tacoma, Wash. Foundations such as VEST can help rural districts provide children with a level playing field as they prepare for the work force and successful adult lives.”

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