An effort started 10 years ago to provide Memorial High School students and their families experiencing tough times with much-needed assistance will continue, thanks to a donation by a current and a retired teacher at that school.
For the past decade the Memorial Giving Tree has helped the school’s students and families in many ways, from paying for funeral expenses to buying backpacks and clothing to purchasing bus passes for students without access to transportation.
Now current Memorial English teacher Claudia Niemuth and her husband, retired English teacher Greg Niemuth, have created an endowment, the Niemuth Family Giving Tree Fund, for that philanthropic effort to ensure it can continue to assist students and their families.
During their time as educators, the Niemuths said they have encountered many students struggling amid financial difficulties. As they pondered how to best help meet the needs of those students in upcoming years, they decided to ensure the future viability of the Giving Tree.
“A large part of our deciding to start this fund to support students (at Memorial) was a heartfelt need to help the strugglers and the forgotten,” Greg Niemuth said.
They couple will donate to an endowment overseen by the Eau Claire Public Schools Foundation, which will invest that money to ensure grants to students are available in future years. The Niemuths said they plan to grow the fund to more than $10,000, providing the district with at least $400 to $500 annually and more as the endowment grows.
Currently the Giving Tree is funded by public donations, and disbursements typically total $6,000 to $8,000 annually. Money raised via the endowment will add to that total and ensure the effort continues to receive funding.
Memorial counselor Jane Adler- Corning, who helped come up with the Giving Tree concept, will continue to oversee the effort at Memorial.
“It is so heartwarming to see our educators start their own fund with us to support a cause that helps students in need, especially during the holiday season,” said Sarah French, executive director of the foundation. “What a beautiful way to leave a legacy.”
Adler-Corning recalled how she and other Memorial staff members started the Giving Tree after learning of a growing number of students in need of financial assistance to meet daily or immediate needs.
“We saw the needs these kids had, but we didn’t have a financial way to help them,” Adler-Corning said.
Since the Giving Tree began, thousands of students have received assistance via the fund in the form of groceries, gas money, help paying utility bills and other needs. Memorial staff members who learn of student financial issues ask Adler-Corning about receiving Giving Tree funding.
“I think it would surprise people to know how many students and their families really struggle financially,” Adler-Corning said. “There are kids who face some real hardships. It feels really good to be able to help them.”
Giving Tree collections and disbursements occur most often during the holiday season, but assistance to students happens throughout the year. Memorial staff and others in the community fund the effort and have boosted donations as the need has grown in recent years, Adler-Corning said.
“The need for assistance from this program continues to grow,” she said.
Adler-Corning praised the Niemuths for ensuring future Giving Tree funding and all others who have donated to the project. She recently used money from that endeavor to purchase $50 gift cards for 107 students in need so they can buy Christmas presents for loved ones this year.
“It is extremely rewarding to be a part of this,” she said. “It is a special thing we have here. We are able to touch a lot of lives through this.”
Claudia Niemuth said she is heartened to know the endowment will make sure students in need receive future assistance.
“We’re not always going to be here, but this is a way to make sure that this program is,” she said.