BURRILLVILLE – Prior to the start of the 2019/2020 school year, fundraising efforts at Austin T. Levy Elementary School typically brought in around $5,000 annually.

Members of the school’s Parent Teacher Association held bake sales and various product drives throughout the year, but like most school groups, found themselves running several annually, and seldom netting more than a few thousand dollars.  

When the new PTA leadership team took over in July,  $800 sat in the group’s account.

Now, just a few short weeks into the school year, the same account holds close to $29,000.

It’s money that will be used to fund field trips, in-school assemblies, and even purchase new playground equipment.

And it may have changed the way the group looks at fundraising for student activities in the future.

The changes to how the group handles fundraising began after new leadership – including Levy PTA President Shannon Luttge – took over at the start of the summer. 

“We wanted to get more structured and organized,” explained Luttge. 

The group became affiliated with the larger Rhode Island Parent Teacher Association, a change that allowed them to obtain 501(c)3 status.

“We saw that as an opportunity to really streamline,” Luttge said. 

The goal, she says, was to take the pressure off of the kids to market various fundraising items, and also the parents and school staff, who in the past had to do extensive leg work to organize and implement such drives.   

“We didn’t want to put the impetus on the students to have to sell,” said Luttge. 

The group wanted to focus on new and different ways to raise money, and the non-profit status would help. 

“It really opened us up to having sponsors come in,” Luttge said.

New PTA Secretary Stephanie Arpin was among those to take on the task of seeking year-long sponsors for the school and the group’s future events.

“We decided to pound the pavement and reach out to local businesses,” Arpin said. 

The PTA set up year-long sponsorship levels with various benefits, such as having a company logo on the PTA’s website and banner. Businesses to sign up for top level sponsorships at $1,000 included Iron Pipe Plumbing and Northeast Disaster Restoration.

Next, the group hoped to organize a fundraising event that was out of the ordinary, where parents and students didn’t feel as much pressure to sell things.

“We really wanted to have a fundraiser that was easy for parents, that was fun for the kids, and was impactful right up front,” Arpin said.

And on Monday, Sept. 9,  the PTA began the single most successful fundraiser in A.T. Levy history.

The group organized a “Superhero Fun Run,” an event that would not not only get the kids outside, but would turn out to be engaging and easy for the entire school community.

The idea came from a friend of Arpin’s who had been involved in a similar fundraising drive for a school roughly double the size of Levy in Blackstone, Mass. and raised $32,000. 

The drive utilized an online fundraising tool known as the Get Moving Crew that allowed parents to register their kids for the event online. It also made promoting and sponsoring the students easy – even for long distance family and friends – by allowing parents to share the event on social media. 

“We had donations from 29 states,” said Arpin.

And by keeping a running total of how much the students had raised, it got people excited. 

“It got the whole school community involved,” said Arpin. 

The PTA also set up incentives for the kids – like a chance to cover Principal Monica Tomson in silly string for students who raised more than $200, and extra recess and a Del’s Lemonade if the drive brought in more than $7,500.

In just three weeks, the fundraiser crossed the $20,000 mark, and when the drive ended on Friday, Oct. 4, they officially closed out at $24,848, with 48 students raising more than $200.

“The Levy community is simply amazing,” said Luttge.

The event itself was also a huge success, with participation by more than two dozen parent volunteers. Parents and students showed up in superhero costumes and t-shirts, and organizers set up three stations for the kids, with a track for running, skipping and hopping; a makeshift obstacle course; and space for a dance party.

“The kids got to go outside and do something fun with their friends,” said Arpin.

And because they were able to run the event themselves without help from an outside organization, their net profit was much higher than on a typical fundraiser. 

The women said other schools in town are now looking to hold similar events. 

“We sort of looked at this as a new way to approach fundraising for our students,” said Luttge. “With this money we’ll be able to do some great things.”

In addition to funding in-school activities and upgrading facilities, the money will be used to cover events like an upcoming “Trunk or Treat.” 

For a school with just 341 kids, it seems, $24,000 is a lot of money, and the ladies are more than satisfied with the results.

“I think we had set our sights on some pretty big goals this year,” said Luttge.

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