And the winner is the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation, when it comes to promoting excellence in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools.

Touting the theme Hooray for Hollywood, the foundation hosted its 15th annual Gahanna Gala on Feb. 23 at L Brands, 3 Limited Parkway, on the eve of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony recognizing excellence in cinematic achievements.

Foundation President Sharon Tomko said the goal of the gala, which includes silent and live auction items, always is to raise more money than the year before.

She was hoping for $120,000 this year, from patrons that numbered close to a 400-person sellout.

Tomko said proceeds from last year's gala helped fund about 80 grants valued at $70,000.

Some of those grants funded a districtwide Herb n' Arts Fair organized by the Gahanna Lincoln High School Community Art Class, $2,500; a districtwide online math tool called Dreambox, $7,900; chemistry labs at the high school, $2,264; Jefferson Elementary School Lego Robotics afterschool program, $2,279; and Gahanna Middle School West fitness room, $1,000.

Tricia Twigg, the district's community relations and outreach coordinator, said the foundation has awarded about $1.6 million in grants, programs and scholarships in its 15-year history.

Tomko said the foundation designated $20,000 for this year's Fund-A-Need that will go to the district's middle schools to provide high-tech materials for robotics competitions and tools that encourage curiosity and discovery through Maker Spaces at middle school media centers.

Gahanna Middle School East science teacher Dave Merrick said a middle school robotics team competed in Dayton the same day the gala was held, making it to the quarterfinals in its first year of competition.

"Fund-A-Need has been awesome in providing opportunities," he said.

Merrick said this was the inaugural year for the competition-robotics team that was started through grant money the foundation provided.

"Our competition robotics team has 24 members from all three middle schools and really provides a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunity for them to innovate, create, engineer, ptoblem-solve and take all that knowledge with engineering and compete against other schools around the state, country, if they're good enough, or compete in the worlds for the next championships," Merrick said.

He said one area to focus on is preparing students for is STEM careers and jobs.

"Currently, we don't have enough students in STEM to provide the supply that pipeline of jobs that are going to be out there," Merrick said. "Last year in 2018, over 1.2 million jobs went unfulfilled. It wasn't because people don't want to work. They just don't have the STEM skills to work. So, if we start experiencing STEM in the earlier age groups, our goal is to turn kids on sooner so we have a robust population of kids solving problems more so than ever."

Jen Murray, who has two children in the district's schools, attended the gala to support its mission to promote excellence in education by funding inspirational and innovative programs that impact the learning of all students.

She was keeping an eye on the silent and live auction items via her smartphone.

Murray said she and her family went on a vacation to Mexico last year, after winning the trip through the gala auction.

"It was great," she said, "a lot of fun."

More about the foundation can be found at