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These PTO women know how to s-t-r-e-t-c-h a buck

January 5, 2013

Dr. Donna Raptakis, left, principal of Governor Aram J. Pothier Elementary School in Woonsocket, stands with Jessica Barboza, center, president of the school's PTO, and Alison Yojana, PTO vice president. The two PTO women started out with $179 and have converted it to $1,400 in just three weeks through creative financial techniques. Part of the funds will go toward replacing the school’s aging analog TV sets and VHS tape players. Photo/Ernest A. Brown

WOONSOCKET – Buy low, sell high.
The old adage is usually invoked as the secret of success on Wall Street, but it worked just fine on Robinson Street when the ladies of the Pothier Elementary School PTO wanted to raise funds to support teachers this Christmas.
Their winning investment? If you’re thinking Apple or Exxon Mobil or another one of those flashy NYSE brands, you’d be wrong.
The PTO was buying stock alright, but not the kind you get from Ameritrade. The stock they grabbed came right off the shelf of the Dollar Tree, the store where everything is famously priced for a dollar or less.
During the span of a few days last month, the PTO converted $179 into nearly $1,400 by purchasing everything from pet toys to antiperspirant from the cut-rate retailer on Diamond Hill Road and reselling the merchandise for a profit during a holiday bazaar at the school.
“I hope we don’t get anybody in trouble at the store,” says Alison Yojana, vice president of the PTO. “It’s legal, right?”
The idea behind the fundraiser was actually two-fold, says Jessica Barboza, PTO president. In addition to raising money, the PTO was just as concerned about enabling schoolchildren from Pothier and its sister school, nearby Citizens Memorial, to purchase Christmas gifts for family members, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Just to make sure that happened, the PTO took a loss of some of the merchandise. Some items were given away for free.
“We were surprised we raised so much money, but we were more surprised by the involvement we got from parents,” says Barboza. “It turned out to be a much bigger event than we thought.
“We sent out flyers beforehand to make sure everybody was aware of the event,” she says. “We didn’t think we’d raise a lot of money. We just did it to make sure kids would be able to gifts for their family for the holidays.”
Starting out with their initial pool of funds, they’d sell off their inventory then reinvest the proceeds, repeating the cycle until they built up their initial investment to roughly six times its original size.
So many families came to the event that it was necessary to make at least a half-dozen trips to the Dollar Tree to replenish the gift stock. They bought everything from mittens and flashlights to neckties and puzzles.
“I remember one kid getting deodorant for his Uncle Steve,” says Yojana. “More than three quarters of school families bought stuff during the event. We made sure every child had something to take home even if they didn’t have money to buy anything.”
As fundraiser and holiday charity, the bazaar was an unqualified success, but the entrepreneurial spirits of the PTO are apparently just getting warmed up.
Now that their profit is way up, they’d like to the squeeze the maximum benefit out of it for Pothier by employing another Wall Street principle – leveraging.
Instead of just going to a store and buying what they need, Yojana, Barboza and another key organizer, PTO co-president Meka Hamilton, are hoping to spend it with a civic-minded merchandiser who’s willing to offer them a discount.
“We’re hoping it could be someone local,” says Yohana. “Local small business participation is important four our community, especially our kids.”
Neither the PTO nor school personnel from Pothier have officially identified any needed classroom supplies for the 500-plus student body. But the PTO leaders say the newest elementary school in the district is still using analog TVs and antiquated VHS tape players in the classroom.
If the VHS players are out of date, then so are the learning materials they support – and that’s a big concern, says Barboza.
“There’s definitely a technology need in our school,” she says. “We want to be able to provide newer equipment for them so the students are getting current learning materials. There’s other things the school desperately needs, including basic supplies. As you know, a lot of teachers pay out of pocket for those supplies, and that’s another place where the PTO can step up to help.”
The PTO’s strategy for raising funds this year, starting with the bazaar, was a switch from the past. The organization actually outsourced holiday fundraising to a private company last year and ended up with less money to work with, according to Yohana.
“At the end of the day we figured out that for this demographic, this is the best way to do it,” she says.
Any merchant or local vendor interested in taking up the PTO’s invitation to supply some high tech gear for Pothier School can contact Yojana via email at moxiemuscle@gmail.com.

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