After a two-year break to reorganize, educational empowerment nonprofit Parents Challenge is running at full speed - planning two January events for parents and educators and taking applications for programs that offer scholarships and grants.
The mission of Colorado Springs-based Parents Challenge is to give options in K-12 education, whether it is private, public charter or home schooling, said Deborah Hendrix, executive director.
Finding the right school for a child is difficult for many parents and doubly so for impoverished families who face barriers such as transportation and tuition, not to mention resources to determine what school might be the best fit. Parents Challenge provides parents with tools to make such decisions. Once a school is chosen, the organization provides grants and tuition help, and assistance with educational necessities such as uniforms, computers, tutoring and transportation.
The group is serving 77 families and 120 children this school year.
"There's a big need. It's all been word of mouth," Hendrix said.
Signing up new families to help them find schools for the 2015-2016 school year begins in the fall.
For those attending public school or home schooling, grants of up to $750 are available. Those who choose private schools can apply for scholarships up to $2,000, which is paid directly to the institutions. Financial aid is determined by federal eligibility requirements.
Over the years, the organization has provided more than $2 million in financial assistance to impoverished children.
Parents Challenge has a budget of $350,000. It receives support from donors, corporations and businesses, and hopes to build on that through various fundraising efforts and community partnerships.
It was founded 13 years ago by developer Steve Schuck and his wife, Joyce, who are on the board. Schuck, a proponent of school choice, believes many low-income kids are trapped in the worst performing schools or those that don't fit, thus limiting access to quality education.
Parents Challenge didn't sign up new clients in 2011-2012 while the business model was updated with help of three retired Air Force officers, including brigadier generals Randy Cubero, now a board member, and Gunther Mueller, and Col. Tom Bailey. As volunteer interim executives, they streamlined operations, created a website and redefined efforts so there was more interactions with schools and parents. Hendrix, who served eight years as board president of Harrison School District 2, was named executive director.
Parent advocacy sessions were expanded, and recent topics have included home-school reading resources, empowering student learning through parent-teacher conferences, bullying, college resources, STEM programs and computer training.
"Our sessions help them navigate the education system," Hendrix said. "Our goal is not to tell them what to do, but provide tools to make good decisions."