Student fund at Georgia Academy for the Blind almost tapped out

A fund that helps students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind is nearly depleted, and school officials fear that if it goes dry, students’ learning and opportunities will be curtailed.

Officials are trying to raise between $20,000 and $100,000 for the Macon school’s student fund, which pays students to work on campus, sends them to camp, pays for field trips and buys them canes and wheelchairs.

“Our hands would just be tied, and there would not be a route to get funds for athletics, projects or personal needs for children” without the money, said Dorothy Arensman, the academy’s director.

Since 1852, the Academy for the Blind has been serving children from across the state who are legally blind, visually impaired or who have multiple disabilities. It teaches about 130 students, about 75 of whom live in dorms on campus.

Since the academy is a state school, it doesn’t have the benefit of local tax resources, and state budget cuts have hurt the school’s finances. The school is now in a hiring freeze.

The student fund, built strictly from donations and fundraisers, is nearly tapped out because of the down economy, Arensman said.

“If we didn’t have a student fund, it would be bad,” said Brittany Thomas, a freshman at the academy who got her cheerleading uniform with money from the fund.

The student fund also helped buy 16-year-old wrestler Daniel Collins of Vidalia a new mat, his singlet and a machine that helps him read news on the Internet.

Horticulture teacher Mark Bruner uses the fund to pay four students minimum wage to perform landscaping jobs around campus to teach them what it’s like to work and hold a job.

The school is having a dinner and performance fundraiser next month, and it sells jewelry and hats to help raise money for the fund.

One parent, Donna Boylan, wrote the state last month asking for help.

Boylan, whose daughter Courtney attends the academy, came up with a fundraising idea called Georgia Casual Week. Feb. 9-13, employees across Georgia could choose to dress casually to work and pay a small donation, with proceeds going to the academy’s student fund.

Gov. Sonny Perdue already has endorsed the cause. He’s scheduled to present a proclamation to Boylan, who lives outside Atlanta, and some academy students Jan. 13.

The academy should soon get help from state School Superintendent Kathy Cox, too.

Cox won $1 million on the TV show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” in September, and she promised to donate part of the prize money to the academy.

“I don’t believe the winnings have been distributed yet,” said Dana Tofig, Georgia Department of Education spokesman. “However, the money will be distributed from the trust fund by a board that will decide on the best expenditure of the funds.”

Some of the winnings, Tofig said, should help with student activities, such as those paid out of the student fund.

Any money to boost the fund is welcome, officials said.

“I don’t want the kids not to have what they need,” Arensman said.

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To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.