When Scott Reiners emailed the leaders of the Ballston Spa Education Foundation in the spring, he expected a quick response. He got one.
Reiners, along with his mother and sisters, was offering to donate more than $100,000 to the foundation, which provides grants to Ballston Spa teachers each year. The family intended to donate the entire trust set up in their father’s name, Fred Reiners.
“I think I got back to him really quickly,” said Karen Barone, chair of the foundation. “Who gets an email like that? It was so amazing and so shocking.”
Barone and the other volunteers with the education foundation went to work developing a formal proposal for how the money would be used, an effort to demonstrate to the family that the foundation took the donation seriously. The foundation has long been giving out grants to teachers for programs and special supplies that couldn’t be funded through the district’s regular budget – both a “cherry on top” for teachers and an investment in new ideas that could benefit the broader district.
But their giving has been limited to what a group of volunteer parents could raise each year, usually around $5,000 to $10,000 a semester. The new donation will nearly double the foundation’s grant-giving potential for at least the next decade.
“It’s not even something that we would have dreamed of,” Barone said of the family’s contribution. “It’s so beyond what we could’ve done.”
Fred Reiners and Susan Heim raised three kids who attended Ballston Spa schools: Scott, who graduated from high school in 1995; Kelly Holzworth, who graduated in 1997; and Lindsay Salazar, who graduated in 1998.
Fred Reiners was committed to local youth programs, coaching a school Odyssey of the Mind club and serving as a scoutmaster, Scott Reiners said. Fred was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in his 50s and died shortly after. His longtime employer, the Fort Miller Group, established the Fred Reiners Charitable Trust in his memory.
“It blew us all away,” Reiners said of the trust's creation. “I think he would have been very humbled by this.”
Since 2002, about a year after Fred died, the family started using the money to provide scholarships to graduating Ballston Spa seniors. Each year, they solicited applicants and judged them based on an open-ended essay question, giving out a couple thousand dollars to the winners. But the family decided it wanted to do something a little bigger with what was left in the trust.
“We decided this year that we wanted to do something much bigger and give the entire trust to the district to use for something with a broader impact,” Scott Reiners said. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for teachers in the school to think outside the box.”
Barone said she found inspiration in the story of the trust and its creation.
“The fact that this is really the fruit of the labor of a man who cared about public education and the enrichment of students, and that it was in his honor from the very beginning and found its way to our organization, it’s such an incredible story,” Barone said.
The family has left it up to the education foundation to determine how best to use the money. Barone said that, starting in the spring, the foundation will give out an extra $10,000 in grants using the Reiners donation; those grants will come on top of the grants the foundation normally awards.
Barone said she didn’t know whether those grants would be bigger than the other grants or comparable, but she said the new influx of money has given the foundation a chance to think more strategically. She said the goal of the grants is to invest in things that will serve the district for more than a single school year.
“We want things that have longevity -- that will be around year after year,” Barone said. “We are not taking our foot off the gas at all; we see this as complete bonus money and absolutely amazing, not our ticket out of hard work.”