Alumni start endowment for Berkmar

LILBURN - Early one morning last October, Berkmar High School Assistant Principal Diana Preston called up Berkmar alum Marc Cain to talk about setting up an endowment for the school cluster.

Cain agreed it was a good idea, but little did he know what he was getting into.

"Her next question was, 'Will you be the chairman?'" Cain said.

So began months of work dedicated to creating the Berkmar cluster's very own endowment. The foundation, which is applying for nonprofit status, will supply grants and scholarships to teachers and students who live within the Berkmar cluster, which consists of 10 schools.

"It's something that should have been done a long time ago," Preston said. "This has to happen."

A board of 10 alumni, parents and supporters, including Cain, will manage the endowment. Organizers hope to begin awarding grants to teachers by next spring and raise $100,000 within two years.

No small task. To create a financial endowment that will last, Cain and Preston are trying to draw as many people into the process as possible. While Berkmar has a solid community base, they said, it is not a broad one, and many people have moved out of the Berkmar cluster over the years.

For foundation organizers, it's a matter of methodically finding those people and soliciting donations. Cain said he has financial commitments from potential donors that amount to almost $50,000.

Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett Public Schools, said cluster foundations already exist at North Gwinnett, Grayson and Brookwood, among others.

Preston hopes the foundation will not only provide needed funds but spark a sense of community involvement and strengthen alumni connections to Berkmar High School.

Cain, on his wife's advice, has already formed one important community partnership with the Terry F. Barker Memorial Golf Tournament. The tournament was organized 20 years ago in memory of Terry Barker, a friend of Cain who also attended Berkmar.

"If he was here today, he'd be one of the first people at this table," Cain said.

While proceeds from the tournament have always gone toward journalism scholarships at the University of Georgia and Georgia State, the foundation will use the tournament to generate yearly profits for the Berkmar cluster as well. At the last tournament in May, foundation organizers sold tee signs and helped run the event, generating more money towards their goal.

"We were very fortunate to latch onto something 20 years old," Cain said.

Cain's cousin who helps run the tournament, Kent Cain, said tournament organizers are excited to help out closer to home.

"It has revitalized us as far as working for something year after year," he said.

For the Cains and other Berkmar alumni, it's like coming home. Marc Cain has been heavily involved with fundraising organizations at Brookwood High School, which both his children attended.

"People know me as 'Brookwood,'" Cain said.

But Berkmar High School is where he grew up, where he played basketball, where he met Preston - she was his language arts teacher - and where he met his future wife. Berkmar is still home.

Luckily Cain is not alone in feeling that way, and in the past few months alumni have been stepping up to pledge money for the foundation.

"The roots are still here for everybody," Kent Cain said.

For more information, visit berkmarclusterfoundation.org.