Boosterthon helps schools ditch the doughnut

Most of the staffers with Boosterthon are in their early to mid-20s and bring an energy to a multiday fundraising effort focused on character and fitness.

Efforts to make school fundraisers, as well as snacking, more healthy seem to be working, as evidenced by changes made in some local schools.

For several years, I’ve been following the award-winning programming of the MUSC Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness. Also known as the MUSC “Lean Team,” the center works on several levels to create “a culture of wellness,” first in area schools and, more recently, across the state.

The latest award for the center came last week from the Health Care Leadership Council. The Council awarded its Wellness Frontier Award to MUSC for its “Docs Adopt School Health Initiative.”

The initiative provides schools with a checklist for creating healthy campuses. Schools that reach the checklist’s goals win $1,000 grants for wellness. A section of that checklist includes school fundraisers.

And while part of that dovetails with fairly new federal guidelines during the Obama administration, the state of South Carolina diluted those guidelines by making them applicable to only half the school year.

Still, in the spirit of making progress on the childhood obesity epidemic, many schools, including teachers, parents and administrators, have heeded the call of ditching the doughnut, cupcake and candy bar sales for either healthy food, “nonfood” and even nonmaterial oriented fundraisers.

Long before the feds started trying to turn the junk food ship at schools, a school fundraiser business called Boosterthon started offering its services to schools.

In a nutshell, Boosterthon, which was founded in 2001, uses teams of trained and paid staffers, usually people in their early and mid-20s who live in certain service areas, to go into schools and do a fundraising program that promotes fitness, leadership and character.

The program, which usually lasts nine days, starts with school-wide pep rallies and then infiltrates the school in a variety of levels to boost camaraderie and character. It ends with a fundraising fun run by students who collect pledges.

Integrated into the program this school year is a “give back program” called “The Great Shoe Takeoff,” which has the goal of collecting 60,000 gently used pairs of shoes that will be delivered to children in need in developing countries.

Locally, Boosterthon has been around since the fall of 2013 and has grown from serving seven schools in the tri-county to 55 schools from Myrtle Beach to Savannah this school year. Of those, 37 are located in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Nationally, Boosterthon expects to serve 1.2 million students in 1,600 schools in 35 states.

Mark Rhodes, general manager of Boosterthon Lowcountry, says he expects the program will touch more than 29,000 local, mostly elementary school, students.

“The single greatest reason we grew in Charleston is that we can execute a fundraiser that does not involve (tangible) products,” says Rhodes. “Everything we do is quality.”

Boosterthon’s knack for raising money, frankly, is remarkable. It claims to raise 70 percent more than more conventional fundraisers, though some school representatives bristle at the fact that the program takes about 50 percent of the funds raised to pay its staff.

But most people would agree that the level of dedication and professionalism between paid staff and volunteers is night and day.

Kim Boyea, PTA president at Knightsville Elementary School in Summerville, says Boosterthon has worked with the school for three years and describes the experience as “perfection.”

“It’s an incredible program because EVERY student is included. Also,it helps us teach our students to get their bodies moving. We will never sell cookie dough or wrapping paper again,” says Boyea, adding that Boosterthon has raised more money than any other fundraisers the school has done.

Among one of Boosterthon’s biggest local boosters is Dave Spurlock, the coordinator of health, wellness and physical education for the Charleston County School District and a national leader in advocating the connection between learning and daily movement.

“Over the years, I’ve sold everything you could possibly sell for school fundraisers,” says the 64-year-old former football and baseball coach.

Spurlock says Boosterthon offers “an opportunity for schools not only to make money but a lot of money and do it in a healthy way.”

Lucie Maguire Kramer, a program coordinator for the MUSC Boeing center, says one issue she has with Boosterthon is that its success as a fundraiser hinges on parental involvement and that it’s more successful in affluent schools than less privileged ones.

“They (affluent schools) kill it because parents are well-networked,” says Kramer. “The schools that don’t have money don’t get the pay off.”

Kramer says Boosterthon has a great model, but that she would prefer seeing schools emulate it on their own, or do something else, and keep all of the money.

She notes some examples of other fundraisers that don’t involve selling items, including school dances that charge admission or “dress-down” days.

Partly at Spurlock’s urging, Rhodes is working on a new model that calls for private donors to pay the fees for Boosterthon at less privileged schools, such as those designated as Title I. Rhodes thinks he may run that first pilot by the end of the semester.

Kramer says the success of one school wellness champion, science teacher Larsyn Runion Cross at Wando High School, caused the MUSC Boeing Center to expand its checklist.

Cross started a run last year, Hearts & Soles 5K, with all proceeds going back into the wellness programming at Wando, not the general school coffers.

The second annual event was held Saturday and drew nearly 350 entries, up from 250 last year, and raised about $6,500, according to Cross.

Cross says she decided to hold the fundraiser because the school district offers limited funds — only $1,000 — to implement a school wellness program.

“While this is a substantial amount of money for many schools, it is a very limiting fund for a school as large as Wando,” says Cross.

Proceeds from the run, she adds, will improve the yoga program for teachers, provide after-school fitness programs for students, host health professionals for talks on nutrition and fitness and other programs to increase the wellness culture at Wando.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.