Swift Foundation awards over $20K to improve literacy in the Sierra

The Bessie Minor Swift Foundation awarded over $25,000 to 12 California-based programs that improve literacy in and around the Sierra.

The Bessie Minor Swift Foundation — an nonprofit formed by the owners and founder of Swift Communications, the company that owns and operates The Union and Sierra Sun newspapers — distributed over $20,000 this year to several programs that improve literacy in the Sierra.

Since 2008, more than $780,000 has been awarded to organizations in the communities where Swift Communications conducts business. Gifts have been received by nonprofits in California, Colorado, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.


Grass Valley’s Chicago Park Community Charter School received $3,000 to install an irrigation system in a garden at a disadvantaged rural school. Principal Katie Kohler said Chicago Park Community School co-mingles charter and elementary school students at a school where over 54% of the 158-member student body receives free or reduced lunch.

Kohler said the garden, which exists to give students hands on experience in agriculture, previously relied on untreated NID water with limited, seasonal-based availability. The garden, complete with a new orchard this year, will be hydrated year-round with no extra onus placed on the school’s faculty and staff.

“Right now, we have trash cans filled with water, but this will make it so much easier for our staff and our students,” Kohler said, adding that the new irrigation system will also support an outdoor sink for farmers-, ecologists- or gardeners-in-training to wash their hands.

Full-Circle Learning, also located in Grass Valley, was awarded $3,000 to purchase supplies for 10 students to participate in a week-long Climate Change Agents Camp. The camp facilitates students’ exploration of sustainable development goals through exhibits and service learning projects.

The Bessie Minor Swift Foundation awarded the North San Juan Community Center $1,531 to cover broadband costs and a tech volunteer stipend. According to the foundation’s website, three to five students are served each day through this program that seeks to meet a community need of more online access points and parental support for at-home learning.

Sierra Gold Parks Foundation in Grass Valley was awarded $3,000 to create video and classroom materials for a “virtual field trip,” where students can learn more about the Nisenan tribe and their connection to the land now known as the South Yuba River State Park. The nonprofit anticipates 5,000 students will tour the California State Park through the lens of the land’s original stewards.

The communications-based foundation awarded $900 to Union Hill School District to purchase educational materials used to increase listening and reading comprehension, oral language skills and writing skills in kindergarten through first-grade students.


Adventure Risk Challenge of Truckee received $2,600 to design, print and distribute essays and poetry created by students enrolled in a month-long summer course that integrates English instruction with outdoor adventure. The nonprofit is committed to provide immersive outdoor and academic programs for underserved youth will create 500 books.

Le’a Gleason, Headwaters Science Institute’s communication director, said the $2,500 awarded to the Soda Springs-based program will be used to help expose students to real, working STEM professionals to help contour their own vocational journey. Gleason said the institute will use the money to host 10 sessions with scientists in schools across three counties in the Truckee-Tahoe area.

Gleason said the institute began cultivating connections between STEM students and professionals online just before COVID-19 hit.

“It’s a safe, inexpensive way for students to meet scientists,” Gleason said, “especially if the school doesn’t have funding to bring someone in.”

Gleason said the conversations help students learn more about what they want for their future, and is tethered to a related assignment they complete afterward.

The scientists come in “all different colors” and do not necessarily go through the same, streamlined academic trajectory.

Gleason recalled a conversation she observed with University of Nevada-Reno doctoral student Kelly Loria on the results of a water quality survey at Ward Creek close to Tahoe City, where a number of the nonprofit staff members live.

“Ecology is the study of the impact of a certain component on the rest of the system,” Gleason explained. “Kelly talked about how water quality is affected by its components.”

In this case, Gleason and students learned how warm temperature increases algae growth, decreasing the ability for fish to thrive.

Gleason said she herself was also inspired by Justin Ondry, a Chicago-based, post-doctoral student dedicated to improving screen technology. He graduated from Alder Creek Middle School and Truckee High School.

“He actually ended up talking to a sixth grade class with a teacher who was his fourth grade teacher,” Gleason said.

Headwaters Science Institute has facilitated 58 connections with students and STEM professionals so far.

North Lake Tahoe’s Sierra Community House received $2,500 to purchase bilingual preschool books and activity bags for 25 parents and 30 children participating in both virtual and outdoor STEM-based activities. According to the foundation’s website, the free early-learning program is meant to reduce social isolation and increase networking between families.

The $3,000 awarded to the Tahoe Truckee School of Music will purchase instruments meant to make up a free “library” of musical instruments and sheet music available to the community. The School hopes to serve the musical needs and desires of 500 people in the community, regardless of age, ability or financial means.

According to the foundation’s website, Bessie Minor Swift was the mother of the founder of Swift Communications — Philip E. Swift — as well as a lover of reading, history and music.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

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