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To help fund pool and transportation fees, the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) School District's Swimming Booster Club implemented an "Adopt-a-Swimmer" campaign. In its first week, it had already reached half of its goal with 30 adoptions. 

When budget cuts and high maintenance fees threatened the swimming program at Salem-Keizer School District (Salem, Ore.), a widespread effort was made to save it. The swimming coaches asked if it could be made an unfunded sport, which would allow the student-athletes to still compete in the state association's championships, even if it meant finding a new way to cover expenses.

As a result, the district's six high school teams rent time from a recently opened Salvation Army Kroc Center that includes a 10-lane competition pool, and a booster club was formed with two representatives from each school. In its second year of operating, the club is creating a connection with the club's alumni and the current teams through an "Adopt-a-Swimmer" campaign launched in December 2012.

"In the spring of 2011, our school district was facing a $55-million budget shortfall," says booster club member Laurie Fry. "They were making some very difficult choices and decided to cut swimming from the budget, since the high school pool was built in 1933 and is quite expensive to maintain.

"Now the kids get on a bus at their school and go out to the Kroc center," she continues. "Unfortunately, they can't take the city bus, because the center is not in a central location that works with the bus routes. So the booster club needs to pay $50,000 for the pool time, and about $20,000 for transportation."

Extensive media coverage helped the first year's fundraising campaign pull through, but the club members knew they couldn't rely on the same thing happening again. "We went through the first year with a flurry of activity and raised all of the money," Fry says. "But then we started the second year and wondered how we were going to continue to cover expenses."

The school district has athletic fees for all of its sports, but since swimming is unfunded, the booster club receives its teams' fees. This year, it cost $150 to participate, but if student-athletes qualify for free or reduced lunch, their athletic fees are also reduced. "We had 60 swimmers out of almost 300 who didn't pay the full fee," Fry says. "When we started crunching numbers and thinking about fundraising, we realized that we would have about enough to pay for the pool rental if we had the full fees for all 300 student-athletes."

In order to bridge the gap while adding to its other fundraising efforts such as a swim-a-thon, the club decided to draw upon the sport's long tradition in the community--swimming has been one of the district's sports since 1927. "Nobody knew exactly how long it had been in place," she says. "But last year, we kept hearing from everyone that they had been on the team, or their kids and grandkids were. And that made us wonder how we could get them involved again. They wanted to have a connection to the program, but didn't know any of the kids, so they weren't being reached with the swim-a-thon or any of the other events where we contact people we know.

"I worked in public television my whole career," Fry continues. "So I know that people like to have a suggested amount for donations and I thought, 'Why don't we say that you can pay a swimmer's athletic fee of $150,' because that would create a connection to the program and give them an amount to donate."

The resulting "Adopt-a-Swimmer" campaign was approved by the team members and their parents--and then put in the newspaper. "It isn't actually sponsoring a swimmer," Fry says. "Everyone's going to be on the team, whether or not they can pay the full fee. We don't know who pays reduced fees, for confidentiality purposes. So writing the thank you notes is just something the swimmers can volunteer to do, with a signed consent form from their parent or guardian."

Upon being "adopted," each swimmer will write a thank you note, using a template created by Fry. Another letter will be written at the end of the season, as an extra note of appreciation. "It's really just a fundraising vehicle," she says. "But it's a way to tap into a part of our community that we weren't previously reaching through our fundraisers, such as a swim-a-thon or car wash. We're hoping to make a connection with some of the people who have lived, worked, and retired in this town and would like to help with the program, but didn't know how."



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