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Cocker Kids' generosity ripples through North Fork schools

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It would be difficult to calculate the number of North Fork area students who benefited from the Cocker Kids' Foundation. The foundation board of directors, which has given more than $1 million to youth-related programs in Delta County, has announced that the benevolent nonprofit is closing its doors (see related article below).

"Joe and Pam Cocker and the Cocker Kids' Foundation was an exceptional program that truly had the motto of 'service beyond self' at the forefront," said Hotchkiss K-8 School principal Carrie Yantzer. "They gave unselfishly for the betterment of all our students in the North Fork Valley."

According to CKF administrator Cathy Schelle, the foundation has helped support art and music programs, motivational speakers, student governments, Future Farmers of America, cheerleaders and Destination Imagination. Among its generous contributions, it has given to school weight rooms, books and book vouchers, manners curriculum and Celebrate the Beat, and have funded class trips, band uniforms and travel, and playground equipment.

In addition, since 2001 the foundation has awarded $90,000 to 85 North Fork area seniors in Dreamcatcher scholarships. Since 2005, CKF has given $120,000 toward technical upgrades for schools, including computers, laptops, iPads and more.

The foundation also provided $11,000 in activity fees, allowing kids whose families were struggling to participate in sports programs. From the mid-1990s it helped send numerous Babe Ruth Baseball teams to tournaments around the western United States, recalls former Paonia High School assistant principal Cindy Swartzendruber, who, along with husband Steve, volunteered for the program.

"Several age groups were attending tournaments at that time, and the foundation helped us all," said Swartzendruber. In return players were asked to give back in the form of community service projects. "We felt that was a very good lesson for the players."

During her time at PHS, Swartzendruber said students would fill out applications, complete criteria, and most of the time the money was granted. Students submitted scholarship applications in creative ways, including through artwork, videos or some other media. Some of the applications "were remarkable."

"The foundation board was especially interested in funding creative endeavors," said Swartzendruber. "They helped students fund enrichment opportunities, funded students seeking career direction by attending summer seminars, and provided funds for disadvantaged youth."

In recent years the foundation rewarded outstanding teachers with recognition and grants for innovative classroom needs, and rewarded outstanding ideas and teaching in North Fork schools.

Yantzer said CKF also helped support the Helping Hands Food Program, an all-volunteer effort which for the last 10 years has provided weekly food bags to students in need and delivered holiday food boxes to needy families during winter break.

It also sponsored a fourth-grade trip to Mesa Verde, and funded seven trips to Destination Imagination Global finals in Tennessee at a cost of about $1,200 per student. Every year it sent between 10 and 15 sixth-grade students who couldn't afford the cost of a three-day trip to Camp Cedaredge, at a cost of $180 per student, added Yantzer.

"The Cocker Kids' Foundation board always strived to do what is best for the youth," said Yantzer. "The ripple effect from the Cocker Kids' Foundation will live on."

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