In lieu of its annual Celebration of Excellence, the Helena Education Foundation delivered gifts to this year's distinguished students and educators Monday.
The annual event was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. This marks the first time in 18 years the foundation hasn't held the celebration.
"The dinner at Great Northern is for 400 people, so it was completely out of the question," said Lisa Cordingley, the foundation's executive director. "Even if gatherings that large were allowed, it would feel irresponsible."
This year the foundation honored 53 distinguished students and 53 distinguished educators. The foundation decided to hand-deliver gifts and booklets to the honorees because "as impractical as it seems, this was the most practical," Cordingley said.
Some of the gifts handed out this year are made of glass, so shipping would be prohibitively expensive and difficult. Additionally, Cordingley said the foundation wanted a human being to be there to say "congratulations," even if it was from the sidewalk.
The foundation called for volunteers to help with the effort and about 40 people responded. Each team was given six households to deliver to, and recipients were informed they were coming.
Although she said she was excited to honor the distinguished students and educators in this way, Cordingley said she was disappointed that the event had to be canceled.
"It is a wonderful thing to see the family of the students with the family of the educators," she said. "It's also nice to see the teacher react when they hear what the student said about them for the first time."
Cordingley believes the celebration does a good job of illustrating to the students that they can go anywhere and do anything with their lives. However, she said the cancellation is a relatively minor problem compared to the inconveniences and "downright tragedies" many have experienced amid the pandemic.
"But having all of these people volunteer to help is its own kind of reward," she said.
The foundation asked all of the distinguished scholars to record themselves reading a statement about their distinguished educator. These videos will be posted to the Helena Education Foundation Facebook page throughout the week. The book created for this year's honorees features selfies taken from home by the students and teachers.
In its own unique way, Cordingley said, the project provided a unique snapshot of life during the quarantine.
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