Springtime on the North Oregon coast means more than sunshine and spring-cleaning. It marks the return of the annual Fire Mountain School Spring Raffle Fundraiser.

After a rainy, gray winter, the event holds the promise of a well-deserved party and a chance to win a dream vacation.

A local fundraising staple since 1998, the raffle’s proceeds go towards operating costs of the school in Arch Cape.

This year’s party will feature a Cinco de Mayo theme with music and refreshments.

Appropriately, this year’s grand prize is a vacation to Mexico. Winners also have the option to apply the $4,000 to a destination of their choice.

“We always do a theme for the party to give it some substance,” said school director, Barbara McLaughlin.

Second prize is a $250 gift certificate to Breitenbush Hot Springs near Detroit, Ore.

Third prize is $100 gift certificate to Rainbow Lotus Healing Center in Nehalem.

Fire Mountain will celebrate 30 years by adding a fourth prize for the first time: three lucky people will each get $30 in cash.

Since its debut 15 years ago, the event has continued to change.

“We had a teacher in 1998 that had a house in the south of France,” McLaughlin said. “The winner got the use of that house as our first prize.”

Now, the contest has evolved into a rotating selection of travel offerings or usage of the prize to a personally chosen destination.

“We’ve had recent winners go everywhere from Kentucky to Southeast Asia,” McLaughlin said.

The prize includes all lodging and transportation costs.

Helping school operations

A small, independent elementary school, Fire Mountain School has been serving children from Clatsop and Tillamook counties for the past 30 years.

Students master skills in both academic and social arenas in ways that encourage self-reliance, community participation and a life-long passion for learning.

With curriculum focused on interdisciplinary studies, it creates a bridge between disciplines so that students can understand the relationships and connections that exist in real life.

McLaughlin was part of the school’s founding group in the 1980s. She has served the school since in nearly every capacity and has a lasting personal connection.

“My sons and daughter all went there,” she said.

The annual raffle and celebration is Fire Mountain’s largest fundraiser and goes a long way towards running the school and its programs.

“The parents have to raise all of the money the school needs to run,” McLaughlin said. “It’s hard to get grants, even small operating grants, so we have to be creative.”

The money raised by the raffle goes towards staff salaries, utilities and basic school supplies.

“Every donation goes towards making Fire Mountain run,” McLaughlin said.

Coverts head to Kentucky

While each party and raffle has a theme, the grand prizewinner can choose where he or she will go with the award.

Manzanita realtors Walt and Kay Covert have supported the annual raffle since its inception and always buy their tickets well in advance.

In 2009, they were excited to learn that they held the winning ticket for the grand prize.

“We’ve been to Hawaii and Europe so we really wanted to do something really different with the prize,” Walt Covert said. “We always kind of joke that we’d go to Scranton if we found enough to do there.”

With a desire to explore more of the U.S., they decided to travel to Bardstown, Ky., “bourbon capital of the world.”

The Coverts spent two weeks roaming the Bourbon Trail, home to seven distilleries. They also took in world-famous Kentucky Downs and enjoyed the beautiful countryside.

“We’d take in one or two distilleries a day, do some sampling and take a tour of the facility. It was quite fascinating,” Covert said.

For lodging, the Coverts found a cozy bed and breakfast, the Rose Inn. There, they were treated to a traditional “Kentucky breakfast,” a hearty meal that Covert described as “a pile of everything delicious.”

The Coverts again look forward to participating in the raffle, both for the cause it represents and the hope of another dream vacation.

“We enjoy supporting local schools,” Covert said. “We hope to win again and maybe this time we’ll take the prize and drive old Route 66.”

In love with Southeast Asia

Likewise, Karen and Jeff Yurka, of Manzanita, are regular supporters of the raffle. When they won the grand prize in 2008, they also decided to do something different.

“We were getting ready to take a trip to Europe when we got the news we had won,” said Jeff Yurka. “We agreed that with this trip, we’d pick somewhere we normally wouldn’t have considered.”

The Yurkas chose to take a 14-day tour of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with GAP, a Canadian tour group.

“We got a taxi at the Hanoi airport and got introduced to the local traffic,” Yurka said. “Locals don’t really care about stop signs or lanes. It was a white-knuckle ride.”

During their travels, the Yurkas discovered a world that had until that point been unknown to them, including the food.

“We would walk around the streets of Hanoi and duck into the first hole-in-the-wall that looked good,” he said. “They were all open air with woks out front and plastic tables. We didn’t know the language so we pointed at something and they brought us bowls of food. It was fantastic.”

The Yurkas found a region forever linked to U.S. history and people that were “very open and friendly.”

During a trip to Marble Mountain Buddhist Sanctuary in South Central Vietnam, Jeff Yurka made a connection he will never forget.

“I was in a shop and negotiating with the owner over the price of a bracelet,” he said, “I looked at her and said ‘I’m so sorry about the Vietnam War.’ She started to cry, which got me crying. It was very moving.”

Karen Yurka was amazed at the wild contrasts the area offered, remembering a sign that read “Honda: The Way to the Future” in a rice paddy where a traditional farmer worked.

“The rice paddy was so idyllic and the sign so strange,” she said.

Karen Yurka also recalled a somber moment when they visited the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It reminded her of the importance of “staying on guard against evil.”

The Yurkas loved the openness and beauty of the area and have returned several times since.

Now, they have their raffle tickets in hand and wonder where their travels will take them if they win again.

“We support the raffle every year because it’s a good cause,” Karen said. “Who knows? If we win again, maybe Africa.”

Party is a big ‘thank you’

Not only does a raffle ticket holder have a great chance to win a prize, they and a friend get into the Cinco de Mayo party for free, a $30 value.

This year, the party features the music of local greats, Maggie Kitson and the Thomasian Trio.

Comprosed of Maggie Kitson on vocals and percussion; Richard Thomasian on vocals and guitar; Ray Coffey on sax, flute and jambai; and Don Burghett on vocals and bass; their music has an eclectic mix of every genre. Their sets include doses of soul, blues, jazz, and rock originals.

To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, The Stand Restaurant from Seaside will provide a taco bar with vegetarian options. Volunteers will be serving homemade tamales and a special dessert.

To put everyone in the mood to celebrate the party’s theme, plans include Mexican folk dancing, salsa dancing and margaritas.

Beer from Seaside Brewing Company and wine will also be available.

“The party was originally designed as a ‘thank you’ to people for buying a ticket,” McLaughlin said. “The food is always good, the music is great and everyone is free to have a great time.”

Doors open at 6 p.m. and the winning tickets will be drawn at 10 p.m.

Though no onw has to be present to win any of the raffle prizes, organizers encourage everyone to attend an event that has fast become a local favorite.

Attendees need to be 21 or older. For those without a raffle ticket, the entry fee is $15 per person.

For the second year, Fire Mountain School is partnering with Cart’m Recycling Center in Manzanita to offer a no-waste event.

“Using donated cloth napkins and glassware and composting leftovers will help us reduce the waste from the party,” McLaughlin said.

Ticket information

To purchase tickets call the school at (503) 436-2610 or visit these outlets:

Jupiter’s Books in Cannon Beach, Mother Nature’s and Kamali Sotheby’s International Realty in Manzanita.

Tickets can also be purchased by calling the Lippold family in Seaside at (503) 717-0134.

Though the school is a 501c3 non-profit organization, the cost of raffle ticket is not considered a charitable donation.

Staff and volunteers at Fire Mountain School extend their thanks to The Stand Restaurant, Rainbow Lotus Healing Center, Seaside Brewing Company, Bank of Astoria, and Lazerquick for their contributions.

The parents, students and staff appreciate the generosity of the surrounding communities, whose support allows the school to continue.

For interested parents, classes are now being organized for the 2013-14 school year.

For more information on the raffle or other programs at Fire Mountain School, call (503) 436-2610 or email fms@seasurf.net

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