2003- 2004

Rochester Education Foundation (REF) was launched in 2003 to create tangible ways to help city school students in Rochester, NY become more successful. Its founders were determined to be independent of the Rochester City School District and apolitical, with a focus on helping students in city schools become successful adults.

REF was modeled after school foundations that exist around the country. Indeed, more than 90 urban areas have their own school foundations. Locally, school foundations help students in Brighton, Greece, Pittsford, Rush-Henrietta, and West Irondequoit.

REF became part of Rochester Area Community Foundation Initiatives in 2003. In 2004, REF played a role in gathering funds to pay for school nurses after the County Legislature voted to eliminate funding midway through the school year.


In late 2005, REF received 501(c)(3) status as an independent not-for-profit and offered its first community project, Spring for Music, a drive to collect musical instruments for city school students. The drive was extremely successful, surpassing its goal of collecting 250 instruments. More than 400 instruments were collected during the month-long drive, and REF continues to receive instruments today. To date, more than 2,400 instruments have been collected by REF and donated to be used by Rochester city students.

REF's support for music has developed into Spring for Music Opportunities. This program continues to provide musical instruments to city students through the collection of used instruments. But it also helps to support everything from summer music lessons for students to the presentation of new musical instruments to a small number of college-bound city students, and music performance opportunities. 


In 2006, REF offered Give Back, Give Books, a community-wide books drive through which more than 10,000 new books were given to city school libraries and city school students to take home. REF continues to accept new book donations through its Give Back, Give Books program.

REF hosted its first annual Partnership Awards Dinner to recognize community partnerships with Rochester city school district students.

2008- 2009

In 2008-2009, REF developed a pilot project, Recipe for Success, a community effort to promote literacy, healthy eating, and food-related careers through cooking activities. The program focused on third, seventh, and ninth graders in the Rochester City School District.

Two partnerships were launched in 2008-2009 with Victor-based Buddies, Bridges and Brains. The first featured suburban classrooms partnered with city classrooms to promote learning and positive interactions. The second was a book distribution project in which books and blankets were given to nearly 4,000 young students at the holidays.

In 2009, REF launched its competitive book application process called Teachers' Choice. Educators working with city school students can apply for up to 200 books for their students. This continuing program has awarded more than 42,000 new books to students through creative, teacher-led literacy projects.


In 2013, REF launched our College Access Program. As part of this program, REF helped launch the Rochester College Access Network (RCAN), a community collaborative providing communication, coalition, and advocacy to support college access for our city students. REF’s College Access Program has grown to offer FAFSA Fest, a community-wide series of events offering free help to students filling out their federal financial aid forms for college. The program also provides opportunities for current college students to talk to 9th graders about college and for 10th graders to go on tours of local colleges.


From 2013 to June 2017, REF was a partner with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation to support GRHF's innovative project supporting fitness and healthy eating in eight Rochester city schools. REF subcontracted with coordinators who managed the projects.


REF was one of 25 cities selected out of 100 applicants to compete in a FAFSA Completion Challenge to boost the number of city students submitting FAFSA forms in 2018-2019.


Today, with your support, REF continues to provide enriching literacy support, musical instruments and opportunities, and critical college access support to Rochester's students. REF also supports multiple shared and partner programs, including the Wilson Outdoors Club, the Dr. Walter Cooper Academy Fund, and One Step Closer. Through these programs Rochester students enjoy outdoor adventures, valuable field trips and new sneakers.