Can you imagine a small foundation that is more generous than the Gates Foundation or the Walton Family Foundation, although it does not have billions of dolllars like them.

This is the difference between philanthropy and villainthropy.

The Nathan Yip Foundation makes grants to underfunded rural schools in Colorado. It responds to requests and gives money for things that schools need.

It doesn’t tell schools what they should do to get the money. It doesn’t tell them how to evaluate teachers. It doesn’t demand that they fire anyone.

The Yip family created the foundation in honor of their only child, who died in a car crash.

“A Colorado couple has quietly given more than $260,000 over the last two years to tiny, cash-starved schools hunched on the state’s wind-blown eastern plains, in the lush San Luis Valley and near the dusty Four Corners.

“Jimmy and Linda Yip admit the money they’ve donated through their foundation is not on the scale of, say, Bill Gates. The Nathan Yip Foundation’s operating budget is only about $350,000. One of its larger purchases was for a fume hood and improved ventilation so students at Eads High School, 173 miles southeast of Denver, could complete simple chemical experiments without inhaling toxic fumes.

“We are a small foundation, we don’t have millions to give,” said Linda Yip, who, along with her husband Jimmy, decided to help out small, almost forgotten educational outposts — first around the world, then closer to home — at the urging of their son Nathan, who was killed in a car crash in 2001.

“But the foundation’s funding is highly targeted to meet specific needs in schools where budgets strain to keep ancient science labs running and basic equipment in the hands of students and teachers.

The Yips gave $14,000 to Peyton High School near Colorado Springs to upgrade its automotive program and $1,100 for math books and other tools for primary grades at Byers Elementary. They also handed $22,500 to Cortez Middle School for 72 Chromebook computers and school science materials, including microscopes, digital scales, sensors, monitors and molecule modeling sets.

The Yips have provided more than 40 laptops to students and families on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation through Tech For All, which gives away recycled computers to schools. And at Center Consolidated Schools in the San Luis Valley, the Yips gave more than $16,000 for high school math textbooks and $27,000 to pay for stipends for teachers to conduct home visits to students enrolled in Center schools

Center High School Principal Kevin Jones said some teachers collect $100 per visit and, thanks to the grant, now make at least five home visits per semester. Once in the homes, teachers learn more about their students in an effort to keep them in class in an area dogged by poverty and homelessness. It’s also rewarding teachers who otherwise would leave the valley for better paying jobs elsewhere, Jones said.

“The home visits that I have conducted have really impacted my job as principal and our students’ ability to get a quality education,” Jones said. “If I could, I would do a home visit a day.”

Joe Wagner loads a new 3D printer in his science classroom on Dec. 13, 2018, in Eads. The Nathan Yip Foundation recently donated money that allowed to Eads to buy the printer.
Leveling the playing field for rural schools

The projects the Yips fund are not grandiose, but they are creating some hope for many teachers, students and district administrators in rural Colorado, who feel ignored and grossly underfunded, Linda Yip said.

“We think kids in rural schools should have the same opportunities as kids in bigger schools,” she said.

School leaders also like that all it takes is a letter to ask for funding. There are no long forms to fill out or worries about putting up matching funds, which is often required for state or federal grants.

Meanwhile, the turnaround for a grant from the Yips is about two to three months. That’s largely because the foundation relies on a 10-member Rural Colorado Education Advisory Committee that includes experts in education, technology and business. They meet regularly to process all of the requests, visit each school, and work to identify the projects that will make the biggest impact, said Mike Kalush, president of the Yip Foundation’s board.

“We know that these teachers can apply for large grants, but the grant process can be overwhelming,” Kalush said. “We make our process simple by asking for a letter first and then if it is something we believe we can fund, we ask for more information.”

Schools often are visited by the Yips, who play off each other well. Linda is lively and outgoing while Jimmy is quiet and low-key. But they are curious about classrooms and their goals are the same.

“We want to level the playing field for these kids in these rural schools,” Linda Yip said. “They deserve a chance.”

“It’s something our son would have wanted,” added Jimmy Yip.

“Concentrating on our own backyard”

The Yips, who live in Aurora, are now retired, but had been real-estate entrepreneurs. They also ran Peliton, which offers companies human resources services, before it was sold two years ago.

Though they grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong respectively, Linda and Jimmy Yip met in Colorado 40 years ago. They fell in love and were married, and found themselves drawn to help those not as fortunate.

Their foundation is largely made up of volunteers and holds three fundraisers a year, including one in February to coincide with the Chinese New Year. The foundation is named after Nathan, who traveled the world with his parents and particularly was struck by the poverty and lack of opportunity in rural China.

After that trip, Jimmy and Nathan talked about forming an educational foundation to help forgotten kids, the Yips said. They created the foundation soon after 19-year-old Nathan, a freshman at the University of Denver, was killed as a passenger in a car crash in December 2001.

Nathan was their only child, but Linda said she and her husband now have “thousands of children all over the world.” She was referring to students being educated at schools the Yips went on to build through their foundation in China, Mexico and Rwanda.

But the course of the foundation changed when Eads High School science teacher Joe Wagner wrote the Yips in 2016, asking for the fume hood. Wagner also wrote about the needs of students in some of Colorado’s most under-served communities, almost all dotting the vast stretches of land outside of the Front Range.

He told the foundation “due to the district being rural and low-income, this would provide much-needed improvements for our classroom and students.”

The letter was simple, heartfelt and pointed out a problem the organization could easily fix, said Kalush.

“I think about that time we decided we could do a lot of good concentrating on our own backyard,” he said.

Filling critical funding gaps

After visiting Eads, the foundation gave more than $30,000 to completely renovate the science classroom. Besides fixing the ventilation and fume hood, the grant also paid for the classroom’s first SMART board — an interactive display — as well as iPad accessories, a 3D printer and virtual reality goggles. The change sparked wide enthusiasm in Wagner’s classroom.

“It’s the type of hands-on learning that kids really respond to,” said Wagner, a quiet guy who lights up when talking about science. “And the fume hood and ventilation will actually allow us to do experiments safely.”

Senior Blake Stoker said the upgrades were “pretty nice.”

“It’s great for me, since I’m not the type to sit down and read and study a book,” Stoker added. “It gives a good hands-on feel to the classroom.”

From son’s loss, a world of children

Kiowa County School District Superintendent Glenn Smith said the help provided by the Yips is invaluable. Like many rural districts, its enrollment has steadily declined over the past 20 years, and so has the state funding tied to each student. The district’s enrollment dropped from 320 students in 1996 to 170 this year, Smith said.

“And with that we’ve also had increased costs for health insurance, salaries and just a decline in the number of people living here,” said Smith, a no-nonsense administrator who also doubles as the K-8 principal. Unlike other small districts, there are enough teachers for each subject, but not much else.

“We really can’t offer art because we don’t have a teacher for that,” Smith said.

Still, the Yips are filling a critical funding gap.

“They came along and really helped us,” he said. “They are helping a lot of schools.”