The Wood River Women’s Foundation will for the first time award a $200,000 “focus grant” to a local nonprofit organization geared up to help bridge the education “opportunity gap” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since its founding in 2006, the WRWF has awarded Blaine County nonprofits individual grants for specific projects, typically up to $25,000. The much larger focus grant, which will be disbursed in $100,000 installments over a two-year period, was established after several years of research and study by foundation volunteer members and an all-member vote to determine the area of focus earlier this year.

“While it is no easy feat to launch a pilot program during a global pandemic, the hardships created by this worldwide crisis make our initiative more critical than ever,” said WRWF President Terri Bullock. “We expect to learn a lot during the first year. This is a new program and approach for us, so we will take our cues from the community as we work to improve the process.”

As data comes in, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the lingering COVID-19 pandemic has stressed an existing problem in public education. A report on Idaho Department of Education School District report cards shows that students who are economically disadvantaged are scoring, on average, 20% lower than non-economically disadvantaged students on standardized testing. In the fall of 2020, due to COVID-19 and online learning, more than 50% of Blaine County School District’s K-12 students were falling behind, WRWF said in a statement.

Grant applicants can demonstrate plans for decreasing “chronic achievement gaps” between student sub-populations or providing “catch up” instruction and support for students who have experienced learning loss due to COVID-19, among a variety of other options.

The focus grant application process opens Sept. 1 and will culminate with a full WRWF membership vote in March and an award announcement shortly thereafter. Applicants may collaborate with other nonprofit organizations for the grant.

Since its founding 15 years ago, the WRWF has granted more than $3.2 million to Blaine County nonprofits, with more than $500,000 dollars going to educational programs. This year, the WRWF has awarded $100,000 to organizations working on elementary school literacy, assisting students in K-8 who have fallen behind due to the pandemic and providing summer enrichment programming to keep first and second graders on track.

In April, the WRWF awarded grants totaling $287,928 to 20 local nonprofits. While the foundation will continue to provide smaller grants to nonprofits, the focus grant will take a lion’s share of the organization’s annual funding.

“There will still be pooled grants for projects in a variety of areas, but there will likely be less funding for them over the next two years,” said Jill Grossman, spokesperson for the organization.

The WRWF is a collective of about 300 women who pool their contributions in order to achieve “greater community impact while advancing their philanthropic skills,” the group said in a statement. All women are welcome to join and participate in assessing the dozens of applications received each year and vote on the awards.

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