Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter, May 3, 2019
The Ojai Education Foundation held its 25th anniversary celebration April 28 at the Ojai home of former president Michael Addison and his wife, Susan.
The foundation honored founder Cindi (Perez) Davis; founding treasurer Dick Weirick and his wife, Jane, and family; and top cumulative donor Louanne Fay and her daughter, Eileen Laber.
OEF member Victoria Bortolussi spoke of Davis’ vision, since she has moved from Ojai and could not attend the event. “What Cindi Perez Davis dreamed over 25 years ago, with support from each of you, is a legacy that lives on,” Bortolussi said.
Louanne Fay, who founded Aqua-Flo Supply with husband Kenneth, was honored with their daughter, Eileen Laber, as the top cumulative OEF donors. Lauber praised OEF as being “a powerful voice” for education in the Ojai Valley.
“It is imperative that we value public education because we live in times that are, to say the least, troubled,” said former OEF president Michael Addison. “There is a moral imperative to support public education that provides students with a sense of their history, of their place as members of this community and of the larger community and of their necessary engagement in preserving and strengthening that which is strong and forward-thinking in our community, in our state and in our country. That is, at root, why I support public education why I support the Ojai Education Foundation because we are helping to build the future of these children who are so dear to us.”
OEF President Tiarzha Taylor told the crowd that on April 28, 1994, the founders may not have predicted their impact, driven by their desire “to inspire our children to live out their dreams.” The OEF has raised more than $1 million since its inception and has “done so much to shape the next generation and the Ojai Valley,” she continued.
In addition to the hundreds of educator grants OEF has funded, it recently launched a student grant program and a Volunteers in Public Education program.
Donors, teachers, principals, students and many more were in attendance, including incoming Ojai Unified School District superintendent Tiffany Morse. Bronwen Cull-Michels, a Nordhoff High graduate, who is now a teacher and counselor at her alma mater, said the 2010 OEF grant for a Mac computer, which is still in use, “opened up a whole new world to us. …OEF has been a huge contributor to keeping Nordhoff at the forefront of technology.” Cull-Michels described a new mural of a tree being painted on a Nordhoff campus wall, reminding students “we are all tied together just as the leaves of the tree are.” OEF, she continued, “has allowed us to dream big.”
OEF founders shared a passion for lifting the community through public education, Taylor said. This shared desire brought a group of people together who did not know each other when the foundation was founded 25 years ago. The organization’s anniversary is an opportunity, she said, “to consider what the next 25 years will bring.”
Performing for the reception was Nordhoff High School ninth-grader Ella Giulianni, and Dennis Jones & Sgt. Pepper Band with Jones, Lynn Coulter, Tom Kolb and Bill Horn.
On May 8, OEF is holding its grantee reception. This is when the teachers and students who received grants for the 2019-2020 school year are honored. “The primary work of the Education Foundation is to raise money to fill in the gaps that federal and state and local funding does not provide for our public schools, so that we can enrich instruction, enrich professional development for our teachers,” Taylor said. “We do that by awarding grants to our teachers.”
Current OEF members are Victoria Bortolussi, Linda Burr, Cam Campbell, superintendent Andy Cantwell, Nan Davis, Laura Denne, Glenn Fout, Helen Hardenbergh, Susan Leech, Kirsten Martinez, Jessica Mendiola, Judith Hale Norris, Salvador Rivera, Joyce Robinson, Maggie Rogers, Asli Ruf, Tiarzha Taylor and Anna Wagner.
OEF Advisory Board members are Michael Addison, Caryn Bosson, Nicole Botti, Brett Bradigan, John Broesamle, Michael Caldwell, Phil Caruthers, Eileen Fay, Christine Golden, Lynne Goldfarb, Therese Hartmann, Carol Holly, Rikki Horne, Debbie Johnson, Dennis Jones, Tonya Peralta, Ronnie Rodriguez, Olga Singer, Lillian Tally and Cheryl Widders.
OEF is awarding an unprecedented $100,000 in grants to 30 teachers and students this year. The reception will take place at the Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room from 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 8. To RSVP, go to https://www.ojaied.org/grantee-reception.