THE Friends of Unit 4 organization deserves a robust round of applause from the community it serves.
The nonprofit group works behind the scenes to help meet the educational needs of Mendon School District students who come from not only Mendon, but also from Loraine, Lima, Fowler, Ursa, Meyer, Big Neck and Tioga. The population of the district is about 4,400.
"We try and help to fill the gap in funds resulting from all the problems at the state level," said Paul Bealor, one of the founding members of Friends of Unit 4 who serves as its treasurer.
The group's signature event is its annual Fall Festival each September. The fundraiser has generated more than $70,000 since its debut in 2015, topping $20,000 all three years.
Money from this year's festival -- which broke the 1,000 mark in attendance for the first time -- is targeted for painting projects at both Unity High School and Unity Middle School; playground renovations, including a full-length outdoor basketball court at the middle school; and redoing and moving many of the class picture composites to a more centralized location.
Additional major undertakings the Friends of Unit 4 have funded include new playground equipment and an ongoing face-lift for many of the district's properties. It has also contributed to curriculum upgrades; bridged the gap between state funding and school budgets; and helped with booster club funding, and meeting the needs of teachers, club sponsors and coaches.
Earlier this year, the Friends of Unit 4 enhanced its cause by establishing a permanent charitable endowment fund through the Community Foundation Serving West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.
The endowment is a long-term investment and another reaction to the troublesome school funding problems in Illinois.
"We would like the school to be focused on keeping staff," Bealor said. "We can provide the extras."
With the permanent endowment fund, Friends of Unit 4 will "help continue the legacy of the district," Bealor said. The fund is established with the Community Foundation in such a way that if the district should consolidate or cease operation, the fund would still be applied to whatever district would take its place.
Friends of Unit 4 is a sister organization of the Unit 4 Foundation. The foundation was formed 20 years ago and concentrates primarily on classroom needs.
There are quite a few crossover activities and projects between the two groups, and both also work with the School Board on otherwise-unfunded district projects.
They clearly are making a significant, positive impact on Unity students, faculty and staff.