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Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, stands behind her desk with a two fistfuls of applications representing dozens of parents of home- and private-schooled children seeking to have the cost of books, lab equipment and other items reimbursed.

More than 200 applications for 350 Carroll County kids have been sent to the Community Foundation, which is in charge of distributing money from the Education Opportunity Fund created by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in 2013. The purpose of the $400,000 fund is to enhance educational opportunities for home- and private-schooled students.

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"This is just from today's mail," Cimino said has she held up a three-inch thick stack of applications. "We're getting more every day."

So far, the Community Foundation has distributed, or is in the process of distributing, $69,138 to 172 children. The money has covered everything from textbooks and learning materials to group music classes and computer equipment, Cimino said

A six-person advisory committee will decide on another round of applications for reimbursement for the 2013-2014 school year on Monday. Cimino said she expects the advisory committee, and then the Community Foundation's Board of Directors, to approve reimbursing another $70,000.

Cimino said she expects to spend about $200,000 on reimbursements for the 2013-14 school year, which is half of the money in the fund.

Cimino said no one has been turned down for reimbursement, though several applications have had to be put on hold because they were not properly filled out. The criteria for application is that the child seeking reimbursement live in Carroll and attend a private- or home-school.

Cimino said she would not provide the

Carroll County Times

with a list of individuals who received money from the fund. It is the Community Foundation's policy not to release the names of people who receive distributions, she said.

Of all of Carroll's private schools that have received information on the fund, St. John's Catholic School in Westminster is one of the few to fully embrace the idea.

St. John's Principal Hariann Walker held a meeting with parents to tell them about the fund, how to apply and the criteria. The school developed two forms to help parents easily apply for reimbursements and help the Community Foundation review the applications. Walker said she explained how the parents could get their annual $405 book fee and transportation expenses reimbursed.

St. John's parents sent Walker about 120 applications, which she reviewed and forwarded to Cimino.

"My parents are overjoyed and grateful for whatever they can get in return," Walker said. "I'm all for it."

Cimino said her biggest concern is making sure the Education Opportunity Fund is sustainable. The fund shouldn't be used as a checking account, but rather a self-sustaining endowment fund.

"I want this to be a forever fund," Cimino said. "This is an opportunity to do something incredible."

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To keep the fund going without asking the county for more money every year is to raise money in the community. Cimino said she already has plans for fundraisers, and is working with private schools and other entities to raise money for the fund.

"I'm really excited about this because it's an opportunity to do good. It's an opportunity for Carroll County, once again, to take leadership on something that is important," Cimino said.

Cimino will be updating the board of commissioners on the fund and talking about ways to keep the fund sustainable for the future sometime in mid-April.

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