By: Tim Cleland, Delta High School—
Eaton, IN—Two days before Thanksgiving, Delaware Community Schools received a special gift that overpowered all the Black Friday deals.
First Merchants Bank has donated its vacant building and land at 107 E. Harris St. in Eaton to the school corporation in a deal that closed on Tuesday, Nov. 26. With an appraised value of $45,000, this represents one of the largest gifts in the history of the Delcom Foundation.
“We’re incredibly grateful to First Merchants Bank,” said Greg Kile, co-executive director of Delcom Foundation and director of curriculum for the schools. “Our foundation has the potential to play a unique and powerful role in the life of our school corporation. We have a real opportunity, and I hope to see the foundation continue to grow.”
In December 2018, First Merchants Bank announced that its branches in Eaton and Albany would close, effective April 2019. Both buildings went up for sale, but the Eaton building had no buyers.
That’s when Eaton Elementary School Principal Scott Blakely came up with a unique idea. Although Blakely has been an educator most of his life, there was a brief period where he worked for Community and Family Services in Jay County. While there, they looked for revenue flows that could assist the organization in providing need to community members. One such idea was to turn abandoned buildings into coffee shops to raise money for the cause.
Blakely wondered if the former bank building could be acquired by the school corporation and converted into a coffee shop. He approached Superintendent Reece A. Mann with the idea, and Mann reached out to Jeff Parsons, first vice president and commercial sales manager of First Merchants.
After discussion, it was decided the coffee shop idea might not be viable at the time, but First Merchants agreed to donate the building to Delcom.
“We certainly believe in education,” Parsons said,” and supporting the Eaton community is great as well. Our initial reaction was to be supportive and to make it happen. We are proud that we can partner with the schools.”
Supt. Mann said although no decisions have yet been made, the building could be used for curricular reasons for Delta High School students.
“We are extremely fortunate and thankful to First Merchants Bank for allowing us a chance to accept ownership of this building to further develop our plan and model,” Mann said. “This plan may lend a role in curricular development inside the Construction Department or possibly the Business Department with additional design work.”
Kile said another option in the future could be to re-sell the building, with proceeds helping the foundation to fund student scholarships and teacher grants.
“This would be great for the foundation and ultimately great for kids,” Kile said.
In the past, the Delcom Foundation has relied upon fundraisers such as the Taste of Delcom food event, a golf tournament, an Honor an Educator donation program, and estate planning donations. Although those events are still important, the foundation has begun to widen its scope for raising funds.
For example, the Delcom Foundation helped secure a matching grant from the George and Frances Ball Foundation that will result in the purchase of $50,000 worth of new uniforms for the recently revived marching band program at Delta High School. The $25,000 grant matches $25,000 from the school ($12,500 from the foundation and $12,500 from the corporation.)
Additionally, a grant from Bayer Fund (formerly Monsanto) was turned from $10,000 into $20,000 through a matching grant program.
“I would love to see the Delcom Foundation grow to a point where we can be a matching grant partner to the corporation as it pursues competitive grant opportunities,” Kile said. “This allows us to pursue bigger grants for larger opportunities. We can double and triple our investments in that way.”
And that’s something that you can take to the bank.