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Cooper Center thanks donors at Appreciation Event

The sun setting behind the Tucson Mountains painted stunning strokes of color on the canvas of the sky as various members of Tucson relaxed with food and music in the company of the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning. Director Colin "Jackrabbit" Waite and his program coordinator, Constantinos "Black Bear" Manoli, wore broad smiles as they greeted the visitors who would fast become close friends.

"We're here recognizing donors from our fundraising campaign over the past year," explained Waite. "We raised $80,000 in just over three months to keep the center up and running for the current school year."

Waite's abrupt fundraising campaign was borne from a fracture in Cooper Center's funding that occurred much sooner than expected. Waite saw it as an opportunity to involve the community sooner, which was ultimately the goal down the road.

"Luckily, the community has shown its support in a big way this year. Now the goal is to turn this year's fast need for funding into sustained funding for many years to come."

That goal was challenged by an anonymous donor, who gave a gift of $5,000 to start the Cooper Center Endowment at the University of Arizona. Dean Ronald Marx of the College of Education matched that donation, which spurred the anonymous donor to add another $5,000, bringing the endowment total to $15,000 right out of the gate.

The endowment is an exciting proposition for the Cooper Center, which has been deeply ingrained in the community of Tucson for 50 years. Many of the donors, such as Eric Corrales of the Marshall Foundation, remember visiting the Cooper Center as students.

"It was always like one of the best things of the school year… having that freedom to come out here," Corrales reminisced. "I wanted [to donate] because I knew how special it was when I was a kid, and I wanted to make sure younger generations have the same opportunity."

The Marshall Foundation donated just over $40,000 alone, which allowed Constantinos Manoli to stay on as program coordinator.

Other major donations included:

Bookman's, a former employer of Waite's, which donates close to 4,000 reusable water bottles every year for students who visit the center.
Dr. H.T. Sanchez & TUSD Leadership, who donated close to $12,000 dollars total, including Dr. Sanchez's performance bonus of $7,700
The Educational Enrichment Foundation and director Pam Francis, which covers field trip transportation to the Cooper Center
The Gates Pass Neighborhood Association, which raised thousands of dollars for facility improvements, spearheaded by association president Barb Fleming.

Waite was anxious for the ability to meet his donors face-to-face. "To be able to see the people who go along with the names and to thank them personally is the most important thing I can do to be able to really show them the value of what they're giving."

The center will be community-funded from this point forward. For more information on the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning or if you're interested in donating, find them on Facebook or visit their website at: