MacKenzie Scott donates millions to nonprofit that works inside schools, filling gaps left by overstretched staff – The Seattle Times

Good News Notes:

Several hours into her day at Nelsen Middle School in Renton, Gena Woodke walked out of her little office to help monitor the boisterous lunchtime crowds. School counselor Tiffany Smith was waiting for her, laptop in hand. Could they make a call to a student’s mom together?

The student, who is homeless and staying with his family at someone else’s home, has been absent from schoola lot lately, an increasing problem among kids during the pandemic. And the mom hasn’t been picking up when Smith calls. Woodke has had better luck — in part because, as an employee of nonprofit Communities In Schools, she has resources to offer that school staff don’t: help with groceries, housing agency referrals, school supplies, clothing and more.

Woodke headed back inside her office with Smith. She’s used to changing plans at a moment’s notice, doing whatever is needed, from meeting with a student falling behind on classwork, to devising ways to make the hallways more welcoming, to picking up a banana peel splayed on the floor.

School staff have high praise for Woodke and the nonprofit she works for, Communities In Schools, a network of affiliates across the state and country that supports students and their families. “She’s an incredible asset,” said Nelsen Middle School Principal Steve Rencher, citing relationships Woodke has built at the school after just five months there.

In early February, Communities In Schools got an even bigger endorsement: a $133.5 million gift from MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The organization’s Washington operations will get $5.85 million, with $2.25 million going to the state office and the rest directly to three of 15 affiliates. Woodke’s affiliate is one of them, serving the Renton, Tukwila and Lake Washington districts. Another chosen affiliate supports Benton and Franklin county districts and a third works on the Key Peninsula in Pierce County.

Scott, famously closemouthed about her philanthropy choices, has not explained why she singled out those affiliates or landed on Communities In Schools for her largesse, said the nonprofit’s Washington director, Erin McCallum. “This is the mystery and the magic about philanthropy,” she said. Donors do research and come to their own conclusions….”

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