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The Space Offers a Place to Belong
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Thursday, March 14, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

"They come in because they can, and they stay because they belong."

That's how Aaron Bronson described The Space, which offers afterschool tutoring, counseling and field trips for students in the old Marketron Building at 101 Empty Saddle Trail in Hailey.

"They've received a message that 'You're not able' and 'You can't,' " Bronson said. "They leave with their heads up, they smile again, they become advocates for their own education."

Bronson was addressing members of the Wood River Women's Foundation at one of their Mix and Mingles--this one held at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute. The WRWF, made up of women who pool donations to award to various community projects, gifted The Space a grant during its last grant cycle.

Bronson noted that the program was founded in 2020 by educators Naomi Runkel and Kate Ristow and started out with a few students. Today it is a vibrant learning program, having provided more than 3,500 hours of work last year to 225 students, 77 percent of whom received full or partial financial assistance.

"We're double where we were last year. But we're not in this alone. We're doing this because of you and your support and the support of the community," she told the women, as they enjoyed wine, sparkling water, fondue and other nibbles served up by the Culinary Institute.

Bronson, a former special education teacher and principal who grew up in the Wood River Valley, oversees 14 teachers, including Spanish-speaking teachers.

Not a day passes that the organization doesn't get a new student call asking about the program. Some learn of the program from teachers and counselors; others learn of it by word of mouth from friends.

Fifty percent of Blaine County students enter middle school learning below grade level, Bronson said. One of the students they worked with this year spent months preparing for his GED. Now he's enrolling in an automotive program at College of Southern Idaho with an internship to boot. Another student increased his reading level three levels and is now reading for fun--something he never did before.

"They need a community that shares in the belief that every kid matters and that high quality education is special," Bronson said. "They need someone they can trust, someone who has their backs and that's what we do at The Space."

"The Wood River Women's Foundation helped us grow from a startup. It's important to remember how much our kids need us," she added. "They need all of us."

WRWF President Sandy McCullough praised her 300-plus members.

"You're a stalwart group of women committed to the livelihood of this community," she said. "And the Sun Valley Culinary Institute, which we've funded, also is one of the valley's most exciting nonprofits--an incredible place to further our goal of education. Yes, they have a lot of cooking classes for the public, but they also teach students what cooking is all about."

McCullough said the Foundation hopes to be able to award more grants than ever this year thanks to a big matching grant.

DID YOU KNOW?

Among those in attendance at the Mix and Mingle was Monze Stark-Magana. Not only is she Realtor Joanne Wetherell's daughter-in-law and but she is also chair of the WRWF's 's new Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee.

Martina is the daughter of Martha Botello, who owns Novedades Angel in Hailey, and she works at College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls where she works to increase inclusivity in the community. She is hopeful of doing the same with the WRWF.

"We have to understand our own biases," she said. "Once we know our biases, we know how to change."

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