COLUMBIA CITY — Earlier this month, United Way of Whitley County announced that its second annual Power of the Purse event raised $17,500 to help fund Whitley County Consolidated Schools’ Kindergarten Countdown program.

More than 250 women participated in the May 10 event.

Attendees bought raffle tickets to win donated designer purses made by brands such as Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Coach and Vera Bradley, and filled with prizes. One purse was designated as the Power Purse, the winner of which also had the opportunity to designate $500 to the charity of their choice.

Kindergarten Countdown began as a program for new students joining Whitley County Consolidated Schools as kindergartners in the fall, as many surrounding schools already had a similar program in place. Only half of Whitley County kindergartners have attended a structured educational setting before kindergarten. Many arrive to their first day of school scared or unfamiliar with the basics of formal education, like taking turns and raising hands.

United Way approached the staff of Whitley County Consolidated Schools about beginning an introduction-to-kindergarten program, but as with many education-focused dreams, money was the major hurdle. With the school staff’s expertise in education and United Way’s experience in raising money to make things happen, the Power of the Purse event and Kindergarten Countdown program were created.

The money raised mainly pays the four kindergarten teachers who run the program two weeks before school starts, as the teachers are provided their normal teaching salary during Kindergarten Countdown.

“Many of the students in the program will then have one of those teachers as their kindergarten teacher,” said Cindy Baker, executive director of United Way.

Money is also used to operate school buses that pick up the Kindergarten Countdown students so they are familiar with riding the bus before the school year officially begins.

The rest of the funding is used to purchase classroom supplies and preparatory items for the students. Each student receives a new backpack and five new books to take home. Some children may never have owned new books or do not have access to books at home.

Over the course of two weeks, the students learn how to stand in line, listen to the teacher, share, hold their lunch trays and find the bathroom. This year, Kindergarten Countdown will operate July 26-Aug. 8.