Foundation to put on annual gala for North cluster

SUWANEE -- There have been plenty of projects in North Gwinnett cluster schools that benefit from the annual "Big T'Do" gala. But Riverside Elementary principal Craig Barlow said one of the most interesting is the purchase of cow eyes and sheep hearts for his school.

Barlow said fifth-grade students use the eyes and hearts for dissection, and teachers store them in the school's computer room to keep them cool.

"We've had some interesting responses from computer technicians when they come to do repairs on the servers and discover the containers," Barlow said.

In its 11th year, the North Gwinnett Schools Foundation will put on the "Big T'Do" on Saturday evening at Bear's Best golf club where it will have a dinner and auction of more than 50 items. Auction items include goods, services, vacation packages, condominium stays, event tickets, activity passes, gift certificates, sports memorabilia and gift baskets.

Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $500,000 for cluster schools, Roberts Elementary Principal Dion Jones said.

Roberts specifically has received nearly $5,000 from the foundation, Jones said, and used that money for teacher grants related to literacy.

"This year we are more technology focused and have applied for grants specifically to enhance the district eClass initiative," Jones said. "Our grants range from laptops to iPads that will be used by students on a daily basis."

The NGSF is made up of parents, grandparents, educators, community leaders and business partners who are working to support the efforts of teachers in the cluster.

The event typically raises about $70,000 for North Gwinnett cluster schools, grants and scholarships, but this year's goal is $100,000, said Kevin O'Brien, president of the organization's Board of Trustees. The remaining money after grants and scholarships goes to the Foundation's endowment fund to provide for future gifts.

The recent Lanier cluster creation caused adjustment to the North Gwinnett cluster, and the NGSF had 15 new board members last year, O'Brien said. Still, the event has prevailed because it's become a staple on the community's calendar each year.

"The community gets excited about it every year," O'Brien said. "That's why I believe we get the tremendous amount of support."

Each year after the event is over, O'Brien said organizers receive loads of thank you letters in the mail from students and teachers who received grants and scholarships because of the event.

The NGSF, which began as a sort of education booster club, has watched the gala grow to about 400 attendees.

O'Brien said cluster principals are proactive at the beginning of the school year because teachers were asked to fill out grant requests over the summer.

"The Big T'Do is an extremely important fundraiser for the North Gwinnett Schools Foundation," Jones said. "It is a time the community shows support for all of our schools by giving and donating to such a worthy cause. I look forward to another successful event."