Sonora Area Foundation awarded more than $1 million in grants over the past year, including a record amount in scholarships for Tuolumne County students.

Darrell Slocum, the foundation’s executive director, said the amount included about $375,000 for more than 125 scholarships, exceeding the previous record by about $100,000.

“We added more funds, and some of our donors gave more for scholarships than they did in the past,” Slocum said.

The scholarships ranged from about $300 to $15,000 per semester, Slocum said.

Some scholarships offered by the foundation are open only to graduates of certain area schools, while others are available to any student in the county.

Slocum said three scholarship funds were opened in the names of longtime local teachers who died this year, including Rick Restivo, Chuck Griffin and Pete Marinovich.

The foundation plans to add six scholarships next year.

“It shows there’s so much out there for local kids to get help with their education,” Slocum said.

Slocum called the more than $1 million in total grants and scholarships about average for what the foundation gives out each year.

Grants awarded throughout the year for specific causes included $90,000 to Big Dreams Playgrounds, $60,000 to Sierra Senior Providers Inc. for the nonprofit’s Meals on Wheels program, $39,000 to Groveland Community Services District for resurfacing the playground at Mary Laveroni Community Park, and $17,000 to Interfaith Community Social Services.

An anonymous donor contributed $50,000 of the grant that went to Big Dreams Playgrounds, a local nonprofit that wants to build the county’s first public playground accessible to the disabled.

“I was particularly pleased with the support our donors rallied for Big Dreams park,” Slocum said. “It’s just reflective and indicative of the generosity of people in our community.”

Sarah Garcia, founder of Big Dreams, announced in November that the group had ra ised more than $300,000 since 2012 and has enough to build the playground on land next to the Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall in Tuolumne.

Sierra Repertory Theatre in East Sonora received a $40,000 grant as the winner of the 2017 Irving J. Symons Award, named after the late local businessman and philanthropist who helped establish the foundation.

The foundation’s board selected Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County to receive this year’s Elaine Symons Baker Award. Baker was Irving J. Symons’ sister and co-founder of the foundation.

Slocum stated in a press release that the board has selected another nonprofit to receive the second Elaine Symons Baker Award for $10,000, but the name of the organization is being withheld pending notification.

In December, the SAF board approved the year’s final round of grants that included $30,000 to Spiritual Roads for addiction recovery programs, $15,000 to We Care Sober Living Recovery Home, and $7,000 to Sonora Odd Fellows Foundation for the new nonprofit’s Foster Youth Prom Program.

Slocum said the board saw substance abuse programs as necessary services it wanted to support.

“Right, wrong or bad, those services are needed in our community because of addiction,” Slocum said.

The Sonora Odd Fellows Foundation will use the $7,000 grant it received for a program to help make sure deserving foster and underprivileged youth at area high schools have an opportunity to enjoy a traditional prom experience.

Karen McGettigan, past grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Sonora Lodge No. 10, said a referral program will be established at local high schools to nominate kids for the prom grant.

McGettigan said the group plans a donation drive for prom dresses and will create a dress closet at its lodge in Sonora to give students a selection. They also hope to find some local businesses willing to donate hair and makeup services on the actual day of the prom.

“We don’t think they should have to go without some of these things that are staples of being in high school,” McGettigan said.

The foundation was created by the lodge earlier this year to raise more money and bring more attention to the group’s work in the community.

“We’ve been around in this county since 1853, but for so long we did things behind the scenes,” McGettigan said. “Now that generations have changed, the result is that not a lot of people know what we do.”

The lodge’s membership over the years has dwindled from more than 200 in the late 1800s to about 40 today, with about 20 of those actively involved on a consistent basis. They aim to boost that number and attract younger members to help carry on the group’s legacy of public service.

Sonora Area Foundation was founded in 1989 and began operating the following year. The foundation and its supporting organizations, the Irving J. Symons Fund and Symons Family Fund, have more than $43 million in assets combined and have given out more than $23.5 million since its inception.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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