New Jersey School for the Deaf stepping up its fundraising effort

A school for the deaf in New Jersey facing financial difficulties has launched a fund raising campaign to try to save it.In February, the Katzenbach School announced its goal to raise $2 million in one year and to date have raised just shy of $300,000. In an effort to generate more awareness, actresses Florence Henderson and Linda Bove as well as sportscaster Len Berman have recorded promotional spots, which will run on the radio station NJ 101.5 this month.
Sprawled over 146 acres in West Trenton, the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf was once a thriving institution with over 600 students from across the country in the 1970’s.Now, with a mere 165 students enrolled and half the campus buildings falling into disrepair, faculty, staff, parents and alumni are reaching out to the community to help save the school.”We are hoping the people out there that really want to help and can help will step up,” said Donna Kelly, executive event director for the school.After getting involved with the school last year, Kelly realized her initial goal to get 15 students hearing aids was not enough. “We’ve accomplished that goal,” she said. “Now what we’re focusing on is trying to raise some funds to help the teachers, because there are about 60 teachers and staff who do not have hearing aids. Beyond that, we are setting up an ongoing fund so that the school will have the resources to do repairs and renovations as they need it.”The school provides education to students who are deaf and hearing impaired, starting with early childhood care and continuing through high school. There is a residency program for students that live too far to commute, but the dormitories are in need of extensive repairs.Although some additions were added to the campus over the years, the majority of the buildings were built in 1922. The original heating system pumps heat into the buildings, but with several of the buildings boarded up and no way to shut off heat, money is being drained from the school’s budget.”We are spending about $1.7 million a year on the heating system that is antiquated. It’s either on or it’s off. And obviously there is no air conditioning so there is a complete renovation of the campus that is needed,” Kelly said.Currently, the school is running a $500,000 deficit on this year’s $17 million budget, according to the school’s superintendent Angel Ramos, who is himself deaf.Though the school is state owned, only about 15 percent of their annual budget comes from state, according to school officials.”Because the state owns it, the state can’t give money to itself. So they’re stuck, said Kelly.The school relies mostly on their students’ public school funding. “For the children that attend the school, the school gets money as if they were going to the public school but they do not get funding from the state as if they were a public school for operational costs,” explained Ramos.”We need more donors to help meet the needs of the school. Especially in today’s economy, the state can’t do it alone,” said Ramos.The school will be hosting several events to help raise funds for the school this fall. On October 12, the school will hold a dinner gala and silent auction at the Grounds for Sculptures in Hamilton with special guest Merrill Osmond. The dinner gala will kick off the 5k and Kids Fun Run held the following day at the Katzenbach campus.”There are almost nine million people in the state of New Jersey alone, which means that if everyone donated a quarter, we would reach our $2 million goal this year,” Kelly said.

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