The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Regents vote to support partnership with Imagination Library

 

November 6, 2019



PORTALES — Nobody on the Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents thought sending kids free books was a bad idea. But the road to trouble is paved with good intentions, and regents weren’t sure that road should run through the ENMU Foundation.

Regents voted 4-1 Friday to give their support to an effort by Edwina Gower to pursue a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for Roosevelt and De Baca counties, but to also explore options that don’t involve the foundation, which had some reservations about lending aid.

Gower, wife of ENMU Chancellor Jeff Elwell, said families could sign up locally for the program.

Gower said three things have to be in place for a county to participate in the Imagination Library:

• Fundraising to cover the annual amount. Gower said she should be able to fundraise the required $40,000 annually for the effort — based on costs of $2.10 per book for up to 1,400 age-appropriate children in the two counties. She has already secured $65,000 in donations for the first three years of the program.

• A place to be the storefront. Gower has identified ENMU’s College of Education, which was enthusiastic to help an effort to improve child literacy.

• A 501(c)3 to run the money through, and that’s the tricky one. Gower sought to use the ENMU Foundation’s 501(c)3 status, and felt the regents’ approval would assuage any qualms foundation members might have about helping an unrelated activity.

Regent Terry Othick said he fully supported the initiative, but had reservations about using the foundation’s 501(c)3 because its status is based on the specific task of supporting ENMU through scholarships. He asked if it wouldn’t just be simpler to create a 501(c)3 specifically for the Imagination Library.

Gower said that would be difficult, and didn’t think asking for help from the foundation was unreasonable given the intent of the program and the time she spends volunteering for other foundation efforts.

“This benefits Eastern, the counties, the state and these kids,” Gower said. “At a time where everything is contentious, we’re talking about giving books to children. I’m getting giant stop signs.”

Jessica Small, an internal auditor for ENMU, shared Othick’s concerns about using the foundation’s tax status for an unrelated purpose. She also agreed with Gower that establishing a 501(c)3 wasn’t simple, noting she is part of an ENMU Women scholarship organization that is working on that effort.

Speaking only as the secretary of ENMU Women and not making any offers on the group’s behalf, Small asked if Gower would be OK with using ENMU Women’s 501(c)3 if it was simply a passthrough cost. Gower said she would work with anybody willing to help her, but may someday have concerns over who could continue the Imagination Library efforts if and when she leaves Portales.

Regent Lance Pyle, who has been a strong advocate for the program as Curry County manager, said Curry County started in 2015 by piggybacking onto a 501(c)3 in Grants County. That entity, he said, was no longer taking on clients.

Pyle asked why De Baca was added onto the effort. Gower said given the program requirements, De Baca would likely never be done as a standalone effort but could be tacked onto the Roosevelt efforts for an extra $2,000.

Regent Dan Patterson made the motion to support the Imagination Library effort, and look at the item again in their December meeting. He said if it was determined the foundation’s 501(c)3 was the best way forward he would support it, but he wanted other options explored first.

Student Regent Joseph Gergel cast the dissenting vote. He supported the program but didn’t want to create the impression the regents were pressuring the foundation to take on the task.

 
 

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