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5 Questions with Biloxi First

Front row (l to r): Jennifer Seymour, Ann Denison, Liz Joachim, Kande DeGrasse-Steele, Jennifer Walker; Second row (l to r): Louis D. Bridges, Ashleigh Lamas, Henry Dick, Dewey Mason, Marcus Boudreaux, Bill Briscoe, Jimmy Spiers, Susan Hunt, Paul Tisdale, Larry Drawdy, Alton Bankston

Ann Denison, treasurer and charter member of the Biloxi First Educational Foundation, shares how the nonprofit was started, its purpose and how it serves the Biloxi community.

WHAT IS THE MISSION OF BILOXI FIRST?

Biloxi First is a nonprofit foundation committed to promoting community involvement with the educational process and supporting teachers’ creative endeavors within the Biloxi School District.

WHEN WAS BILOXI FIRST FOUNDED, AND HOW HAS IT GROWN?

A group of dedicated citizens founded Biloxi First in 1989, believing that all students deserve the opportunity to be enriched academically while being challenged creatively. The Biloxi First Educational Endowment Fund established in 2003 now exceeds $1 million. The growth of our educational endowment can be attributed mainly to our named grant program, which started in 1992. A named grant can be established in the name of an individual or organization through a contribution of $5,000 with Biloxi First. In turn, Biloxi First will work to secure matching funds up to an additional $5,000. We now have 68 named grants with matches derived from membership donations and proceeds from the annual Biloxi First Roast.

WHAT IMPACT HAS BILOXI FIRST MADE ON THE EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY?

Each year, Biloxi First awards a teacher grant from the interest on the named grant funds. We have awarded more than $431,000 and funded 620 creative classroom projects in the Biloxi School District. When Biloxi Schools resorted to virtual instruction during the height of the pandemic, a need arose for additional promethean boards, an important tool in virtual learning. Biloxi First provided $200,000 to help provide promethean boards for every classroom. Biloxi First also was a valuable partner in the passage of the 1999 bond issue for the building of new schools and the renovation of existing schools. Additionally, Biloxi First administers other funds to Biloxi Schools, including Biloxi Excel by 5, which provides resources for preschool children under the leadership of Susan Hunt; Biloxi High School Band Foundation under the leadership of Dr. Paul Tisdale; a Disaster Relief Fund funded by educators to help other school districts facing natural disasters and a Celebrations Account for the celebration of teacher achievement.

WHAT IS THE GREATEST THING THAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED BY BEING INVOLVED IN THE ORGANIZATION?

I continue to be amazed by the steady growth and sustainability of Biloxi First through the efforts of a dedicated board of directors and support from the community. Biloxi First is a volunteer organization; therefore, all donations go to advancing our mission. Having an established educational endowment fund ensures we will continue to give back to the Biloxi education community.

WHAT IS EXCITING AND NEW WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION?

We are very excited to be resuming our annual Biloxi First Roast this October after two postponements due to COVID. On Thursday, October 20, 2022, at the IP Hotel and Casino, Biloxi First will host the 18th annual roast as we honor Biloxi baseball personality Peter Roy Elder.

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