At a time when many grant-making groups are fine-tuning their giving to focus support on a specific type of applicant or program, a new face in the K-12 grants community is taking a different approach.

The Web for Education Foundation—Web4Ed for short—encourages schools or districts to say what they need, and then this group of dedicated volunteers tries every strategy it can think of to help the school or district get what it wants. This open-ended program model, combined with the foundation’s insistence on community involvement in schools, appears to be paying dividends even before the foundation reaches its one-year anniversary.

“We were incorporated in February 2000 as a nonprofit 5013(c),” said Mike Stramara, executive director. “We now have one project underway and have signed up to work with six or seven other school districts. We are off to a great start, and I think we can take this nationwide.”

Without the deep pockets of a corporate parent or an endowment from an ultra-wealthy individual, Web4Ed doesn’t have the luxury of crafting a grand, paradigm-shifting program. It just tries to figure out what it can do to help, in large ways or small.

In the one program it now has underway, the foundation is helping a single school in St. Joseph, Mo., obtain computers and high-speed internet connections. “It’s a special-needs schoolwith just 40 kids, so we’re aiming for a one-to-one ratio of students to computers,” said Stramara. “It’s the only school in the district that’s not wired to the internet.”

In choosing to work with the school, Web4Ed staff (all of whom are volunteers) were impressed with the commitment of the community. “For the good of the community and society, schools must succeed in educating children. Knowing computers is a ‘must’ for getting good jobs, and people in business and government know this,” said Stramara.

Community commitment is as close as the foundation comes to defining its expectations of candidate schools. Web4Ed does not have a well-defined agenda—unlike a grants program, for example, that might offer funds solely for technology training of life sciences teachers in high schools in Title I areas. “We just try to do the greatest good for the greatest number,” said Stramara. “If we work with a school that is completely hooked up to the internet, we might decide that it’s still important to help them reduce the student-to-computer ratio.”

When the foundation sees a school or district it can help, it jumps in with a lot of ideas, though little cash. “We contact corporations and try to get them to donate computers—new computers only—or sell us equipment at steep discounts,” said Stramara. “We try to raise funds in any way we can, online or offline. And we’re looking for grants [from outside institutions to help its targeted schools].”

A story in USA Today’s online edition helped generate interest in the program, Stramara said, and the story also adds to his group’s credibility when it contacts corporations. Nevertheless, the foundation’s web site fairly brims with requests for financial support, not surprising for a fledgling group. It has arrangements with several online fundraising groups, and it also encourages visitors either to make donations (equipment or money) or to purchase equipment from companies that have pledged to make donations.

Despite its small size, the foundation is undaunted by the task ahead. “It’s only a matter of time before the word spreads about us,” said Stramara. “We really want to expand our program and work with as many schools as we can.”

For more information, visit the Web For Education Foundation’s web site at http://www.web4ed.org.