Over the last year, we have been looking back at our 20 years in existence, sharing stories of our educators, our students impacted, and our founders. Today, we’d like to wrap up our retrospective with a spotlight on Georgia Simmons and her dedication and passion in getting PAFE off the ground to a soaring trajectory.
Community involvement has long been an essential part of Georgia’s life. While living and working in New York City, she was a member of the Committee Concerned for Children (CCC), which dealt with life-threatening or terminal illnesses for underprivileged children. She received the “Woman of the Year Award” for her work with the CCC in 1996.
Georgia moved from New York City to Sandpoint in 1998 to join Coldwater Creek as their vice president and director of merchandising. She was promoted a few times and, when she retired in 2011, was president and chief merchandising officer.
Coldwater Creek was a rapidly growing company, and Georgia needed to bring in professional help just like many of our employers need today. People moving to the area care about two things (aside from our mountain and our lake): education and healthcare.
Georgia discovered a problem after she arrived in Sandpoint. Her employees’ kids were coming home with sections of textbooks torn out, and some had to share textbooks. Graduation levels were very low.
“I was angry when I saw this,” she said, “I went to our CFO and said, ‘we have to do something about this,’ but I wasn’t sure what.”
And then she met Bill Berg and Mindy Cameron at the annual Coldwater Creek golf tournament.
“Someone introduced us, and the stars aligned.”
Bill and Mindy had a vision Georgia wanted to support. “We put PAFE together to improve our schools and curriculum for our children.”
When a nonprofit first gets started, no one knows who you are or what your purpose is. Through a focused strategy, the priority was to get in front of the community with their message.
That message? A strong school district is an important pillar of a thriving community, whether you have children in the school district or not.
If the Idaho State funding formula is such that it is not enough to sustain our school district at the level we want or need, we come together as a community to fill that gap.
“After a year at Coldwater Creek, I knew this was an amazing community. People help each other here.”
We are self-reliant.
“I had learned a lot about fundraising in New York City. We had a generous community but little money at the time. So we started by leaning on our vendors. If our business is doing well, their business is doing well. They paid to play in our tournament and to sponsor the event. Between that and the gala, we started to build a funding strategy.”
The grant program was another way to get the PAFE name and purpose out in the community.
This was the momentum PAFE needed. Today, we have a fully-funded endowment that covers all administrative expenses into perpetuity, meaning all donations go directly to the classroom through strategic initiatives, teacher grants, and early childhood literacy programs.
We are eternally grateful for Georgia’s passion, commitment, and integral role in making PAFE what it is today. She likely didn’t realize it 20 years ago, but she began a beautiful legacy for the students and educators in our community.