Kaleidoscope, January 2014: The View from Executive Director, Renee Owen

The light returns!  Yes, each of us in so many ways have made it through the darkest days, and now the light returns.  Hope reigns.  That was the theme of the Rainbow winter program, The Festival of Light. Wasn’t it beautiful?  Music teacher, Sue Ford; Creative director, Justin Pilla; and all the children, staff, and volunteers put together a program that was a delight for the ears, eyes, and heart.  What a beautiful way to carry us off into winter break.

I hope your break was as restful as mine.  I think I can speak for both myself and the rest of the staff when I say that I truly rested.  (You probably noticed that communication completely ceased.) The teachers and everyone who works at Rainbow put so much of their heart and soul into what they do that breaks are a sacred time to rest and refuel.

As break ends, we move into the winter weeks, where the days are getting longer, but the temperature outside is colder.  It is a time to be inside literally and figuratively.  A time to look inward and prepare for what is ahead.  Every January, teachers are impressed by the emotional, social, and mental growth (all domains, actually) their students seem to make over holiday break.  They return to school ready to engage in the most focused and intense learning of the school year, which will culminate with student led conferences in March, where your child will amaze you by presenting his/her portfolio of accomplishments to demonstrate true learning.

As an organization, this is certainly an important moment for us to take stock of where we are, and look with much hope toward what is ahead.  The biggest change on our horizon is the new expanded facility we will soon inhabit.  Wow!  You all gave and gave until we raised the $200,000 necessary for the down payment to purchase the church.  The final dollars were raised only minutes before the deadline.  The Rainbow Rising Capital Campaign was nothing less than thrilling, and the story of the Campaign is below in italics.  If you are interested in the whole saga, read on.  Otherwise, the rest of Kaleidoscope News continues after the italicized section below.

     In the beginning… On September 3, Rainbow went under contract with the West Asheville Church of God to purchase their three acres and all of their buildings located at 60 State Street.  Based on research with local banks and architects, we estimated we would need at least $200,000 for a down payment, and an additional $400,000 soon after in order to renovate the structures and the land.  We only had until December 20 to raise the first $200,000, which seemed like a long shot for our community.  Fortunately, the board held strong to the vision, and the opportunity to purchase this property was too good a dream to let pass by, so we embarked on a lightning-fast capital campaign.  We titled the campaign Rainbow Rising! New Opportunity for a New Era

     Within a couple of weeks, we had assembled a small team of volunteers and staff members made up the courageous capital campaign committee, which was led by Micah Pulleyn (Rainbow parent of Coltrane in preschool).  MG Road hosted our kick-off event, and the Princess Anne Hotel hosted a grandparent event. Early-on, everyone on the board donated and so did all the capital campaign committee members, so the fund-raising was launched!

   The most miraculous aspect of this campaign is that the majority of the funds came from donations $1000 and under. This campaign busted all the typical capital campaign research, which says that typically a few large donations make up most of the money.  Instead there was a massive number of donations for $250, 500, $20, $100, etc – and so many people who gave these amounts apologized they couldn’t give more, and we constantly reassured you that every amount was A LOT!  All those donations added up to a grassroots fundraising bonanza. 

   Almost every day several pledges or donations arrived, so the energy stayed charged.  Whenever it waned a little, a large donation would show up like a shot of adrenaline!  There were two donations for $25,000 – both which were complete surprises!  There were also a few donations toward year one for $10,000, and there were several donations for $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000.  About half of the larger donations came from alumni families, grandparents, or foundations, which was encouraging and helpful in lightening the burden for current families who are stretched to pay tuition.  Thank you, philanthropists!

     The most touching donations were from children and young adults.  Time after time, we were in tears over the first grader who donated all he had saved for his whole life, the girls and boys who donated all their birthday money, the alumni students who made donations, the girl who made cookies to sell, and so on!  Our hearts were exploding! Then, the 4th – 8th grades started a coin drive and between those classes they raised over $500, truly proving that every penny counts!  The staff also did a drive and, as a group, decided they would all donate.  This group of educators who already give so much and are paid so little (in dollars) for their work, ended up raising about $10,000 for the campaign – an average donation of about $300 each!

    Finally, we were three days from the deadline and we were still $23,500 from the goal. K-8 parent participation was over 80%, so almost everyone had given, and we knew many people had given all they possibly could.  So there was a lot of suspense about how the rest would be raised.  Never a doubt that we would make it…just anticipation.  Then another miracle happened. An anonymous $10,000 cash donation –literally CASH—came in.  Only at Rainbow! 

    December 20: We went into the final day with $13,000 left to raise.  Over $7,000 came in during that day.  According to our financial policies, every dollar that walks in the door has to be accounted for by at least two people.  Therefore, donations had to be entered into a log by Mary before going to Sandra, who kept the capital campaign spread sheet.  At one point, Mary was happily shouting that she couldn’t keep up!  The money was coming in too quickly! Also during this time, the wine raffle raised about $1,000 (another example of how $10 donations can add up quickly!), and the $500 from the various student coin drives was turned in.  That $500 was a critical donation to get us toward the final goal. 

    By the time the winter program began at 6:30 pm on December 20, we only had $6,000 to go and virtually 100% of families, K-8, and a large percentage of preschool families had donated – many had dug deeper and donated twice! A few people were worried about what would happen if we didn’t make the goal, and I assured them we weren’t going to lose the deal with the church over $6,000!  I would get a cash advance on my credit card if I had too!  But mostly I assumed we would have to ‘pass the hat’ (or the globe) at the winter program, and that would hopefully finish it off.  It turned out not to be necessary… As people walked in the door for the program another $4,000 in donations were made.  As the program began, Micah was preparing to go on stage and thank everyone for their incredible spirit of generosity and to announce that we only had $2000 to go, but another magical moment happened… Someone placed a check for exactly $2,000 in her hands just as she was standing to go on stage to make the announcement. Happily, we all rejoiced and enjoyed the program in our new future performance space with joy and gratitude overflowing…and what a beautiful program it was.  Truly, a celebration of light.

 Again, thank you everyone.  YOU made this happen by having faith that it would, and by having faith that by taking the initiative to make your donation — no matter what amount you could donate– you would make a difference – and you did.  In the end, it came down to every single dollar being essential.  What a wonderful thing to be a part of and what a blessing.

Working with Micah, Rainbow Rising Campaign Coordinator, throughout this campaign has been a joy.  She is enthusiastic about every person who gets involved, every donation…everything.  Full of love!   Micah, Sandra, and the whole committee deserve our admiration.  They are Sarah Corley, Darrah Noble, Mark Smith (who made all the alumni connections), Bob Hanna, Kristin Candell, Resheda Hagan (who represented grandparents), Elaine Schein (an Asheville-at-large community member), Eddie McCassim, Sheila Mraz, Jen Horschman, Claudia Konijn (board rep), and Wilson Sims (the consultant).  In addition to these individuals, there are countless other volunteers who wrote thank you notes, volunteered on December 7, asked businesses for money, donated in-kind goods or services, and so on.  It truly takes a village.

As if the story of raising the first $200,000 isn’t exciting enough, there is one gigantic pledge most of you don’t yet know about.  We received a pledge from the McMichael Foundation for $150,000!!!  The McMichael Foundation’s giving cycle was over for 2013 when our campaign began, so they were not able to pledge toward the down payment, and instead will donate the $150,000 over the next three years.  Thanks to the McMichael Foundation and several other multi-year pledges from parents, grandparents, alumni, and foundations, we already have $215,000 pledged toward the next phases of the campaign, so there is only $185,000 of the $600,000 left to raise.

What’s next for fundraising?

As for the final $185,000 of Rainbow Rising, the strategy for this final amount is to mostly focus on major gifts, on foundations, and on businesses.  We hope to have most of the $185,000 pledged (not donated, but pledged) by the time summer arrives, so we can predict what the income stream for construction will be for the next two years.

The Annual Campaign: As for most of us who already donated to the capital campaign, we will go back to focusing on the more modest annual campaign for this year, which we all sort of forgot about in the midst of the urgent capital campaign.  Only $15,000 of the $46,000 goal for the annual campaign has been donated.  So hopefully, those of you who made a capital campaign donation, but haven’t yet made your annual donation, will remember to get that annual pledge card turned in.  We’ve all learned that every donation really counts, so please don’t ignore the annual campaign just because you may consider you donation as small.  Every donation goes primarily toward educational materials and programs for this year.  Mostly, it’s for the teachers – so they have everything they need to do a great job.  We don’t want them buying materials out of their own pockets.

Now What?

The Bank of North Carolina delivered a loan commitment letter, and the closing is scheduled for January 14 – next week!   The Bank of North Carolina has been great to work with, by the way.  Rainbow parent, Nate Banchiere, is our loan agent there, and he has worked hard to find us the best rate and terms compared to any other banks.  Thanks for all your hard work, Nate!

No respite for the board and the staff: After closing, we begin working toward getting a certificate of occupancy.  The church has been very cooperative in letting us use their facilities throughout this fall for tutoring, meetings, PE, and of course our Rainbow Rising fundraiser and student performances.  This has greatly helped us get through our facilities squeeze.  Ironically, once we own it, we won’t officially be able to use the interior spaces until we get our C.O.  So, we are going to be in a tight facilities crunch for a few months.  Parent and architect, Jeff Dalton, is working on filing a permit with the city.  Soon, we will know what work the city will require on the buildings for occupancy.  (More info on this later.)

The parsonage, by the way, will remain a residence.  Rather than converting it for school use (and meeting commercial code) which will eventually be an expensive process, the short-term plan is to rent it out to generate income for the school.  We have already found a responsible renter. Our hard-working assistant executive director, Sandra McCassim, and her family just sold their home so that she can live closer to work, and they need to rent a place for a while.  I don’t think she expected to be this close to Rainbow, but it certainly will be convenient until they find a permanent residence.

The prospective timeline for facilities expansion, development, and use is below.


$400,000 was the early conservative estimate on how much it will cost to complete the first phases of work.  The $600,000 capital campaign was a total of $200,000 for the down payment, plus an estimated $400,000 for development.

($200,000 down payment + $400,000 development work = $600,000)

Therefore, as we begin construction in February, we will already need to be drawing upon Year 2 capital campaign pledges to fund the work.  As we file for permits and as architects complete designs, we will get a clearer estimate of what each phase will truly cost and how long the construction will take.  If pledges are paid early and the city requirements are moderate, we may be able to move into the buildings sooner, but for now, we will have to wait for funding to complete construction.  We will do as much construction “in house” as possible with Max at the helm, and hopefully a lot of in-kind work and materials will be donated to keep us within budget.  Note that the development required isn’t because of the church was out of code; they actually meticulously maintained their buildings.  However, coming in as a new owner and as a school, we have stricter code requirements, especially for handicap accessibility and fire safety systems .  Additionally, there is work to do to convert the land and buildings for our use in a way that aesthetically and functionally serves our programming needs.

Plans for Growth
Rainbow’s enrollment goal for the 2014-15 school year is 178 students.  For the 2015-16 school year, we need to have enough space opened up to accommodate 188 students – which is the equivalent of 16 to 18 students per classroom in K-8, (and preschool will remain the same size).  Each classroom will be staffed with a teacher and an assistant teacher, keeping our student/teacher ratio low.

Currently, there are already 166 students enrolled, and admissions is very busy.  If you know someone who may be interested in Rainbow for their family, please encourage them to book a tour early.  We are only planning one open house event this year, which will be on February 6 from 3:30 – 6pm.  Preschool is already full or nearly full for next year.  If you have a sibling you are considering enrolling for next year, it is important you let admissions director, Sheila Mraz, know immediately.  In the past, Rainbow has struggled from year to year to make our enrollment goals.  It is rewarding and very exciting to be in high demand right now, but it could also become overwhelming and even disturbing to have the opposite problem and to possibly turn people down whom we wish we could admit.  So please, tell anyone you know who may be interested to take initiative soon.

Secure your spot for next year
Current students are ensured a spot for next year if you:
1. Return the intention form (which you will be receiving by email in the form of a survey in the next day or two) by January 14.
2. Attend Parent Open House on February 6.  This is optional, but highly recommended. Child care will be free, so that you have the opportunity to talk with next year’s teacher(s) and learn about developmental needs and strategies for your child’s/children’s upcoming grade(s).
3. Return your 2014-15 contract and deposit no later than February 26.  This is very important.
4. If you currently have financial aid, look for instructions on how to apply for the upcoming year, and be sure to meet all deadlines.

Wow.  This is the longest Kaleidoscope ever, and I haven’t even gotten to talk about all the great events and programming coming up, such as the ski trip, Shine, the science fair, and more.  So please keep abreast of Rainbow Reminders and other emails.  Most importantly, keep up all the great support and love for the teachers who have made all of this possible.  As Sue Ford, our new music teacher, said at the winter program, she has never seen teachers put so much love and effort into teaching as at Rainbow.  They continue to outshine all of my highest expectations.  They are my heroes.



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