ECA contributions boost confidence and opportunities
Girls on the Run is just one extracurricular activity that is assisted by community donations.
It's the last Girls on the Run meeting at Lowell Elementary before the fall session-ending 5K run, and Brianna Marx's classroom is buzzing. As members craft handmade cards for local hospital patients, they reminisce on their experiences in the confidence-building national extracurricular club.
"The best thing about Girls on the Run is that we encourage each other," says Cassandra Calderon, third-grader. "When I run, I feel like everybody's there for me, to help pace me."
Fourth-grader Angela Arana agrees. "I was happy to start running with new people," she says. "I practice every day. I run all around my house and the whole block."
Marx started the program this year at Lowell. "I noticed the girls don't get a lot of encouragement, so it's important to instill confidence in them early on," she explains. "It's not about what's on the outside, it's about what's inside. They really pick up on that. We run to feel good about ourselves, not for our looks."
At a cost of $180 per member, Girls on the Run at Lowell was able to launch this year thanks to scholarships from the organization and a sponsorship by Cigna. Extracurricular Activity (ECA) tax credit contributions can help fund the program long-term.
The ECA tax credit program is an easy way to help Mesa's schools and students while enjoying a dollar-for-dollar credit (if qualifications are met). Each year, eligible Arizona taxpayers may donate up to $200 (or $400 if filing jointly) to school extracurricular programs. Eligible taxpayers will receive that amount back as a credit when filing their state taxes.
This year, along with programs such as bands, robotics, after-school tutoring and other extracurricular activities, ECA funds can go toward testing fees for college credit or readiness, such as SAT, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests. CTE certification assessment and standardized test preparation courses and materials may also use ECA funds.
Another big change this year is the deadline. Contributors now have until April 15, 2016, to make an ECA payment to go toward 2015 state taxes. The cutoff for federal taxes is still Dec. 31, 2015. ECA-eligible donations are accepted at any Mesa Public School during school hours, online at mpsaz.org or by mail.
Carol Alexander, supervisor of student activities, says that every dollar counts when it comes to ECA monies. "If a community member would like to make a contribution but doesn't have a specific student or school in mind, we can direct funds toward the schools that need it most," she explains.
These funds make a world of difference for students. "ECA contributions fund opportunities for students to be more well-rounded," Alexander says. "This includes field trips, after-school clubs and sports."
For Girls on the Run participants at Lowell Elementary, the health benefits extend to the classroom. The students say they feel more organized with their schoolwork after learning about the discipline of running. The confidence boosts are apparent at home and in the classroom. One member recently delighted her teacher as she and friends carried heavy breakfast trays back to the cafeteria. The teacher asked, "Why are the girls doing it? Let some of the boys do it." The Girls on the Run member remarked, "Because we can... and we're strong!"
"You see a difference," Marx says. "Girls on the Run empowers girls to believe in themselves and others, and to encourage people in their community, class, school and even at home."
*For more information about ECA or to donate online, visit mpsaz.org/eca. Residents are invited to call 480-472-0133 if they have questions or would like to donate via phone.