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Pechanga donates to local schools

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TEMECULA, Calif. - The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians has donated
$350,000 to seven high schools near the tribe's reservation in southern
California. The tribe divvied the money up evenly among the schools so that
each received a total of $50,000.

"We have always placed an emphasis on youth and education programs, because
our Luiseno culture teaches us that the youth are our most treasured
natural resource," said Pechanga Development Corp. President Patrick Murphy
at a May 16 ceremony for the donations. Pechanga pledged to make the
donations an annual event.

The donation came on the heels of a similar donation made last year to
local high schools totaling $250,000. According to Murphy, the tribe
started making donations to area schools about seven years ago, when there
were five area schools. Murphy described the initial donations as "much
smaller": in the $10,000 - $20,000 range.

As the Temecula area continued to grow, two new high schools opened in the
past year and were added as recipients to this year's donation.

At the ceremony, Murphy presented all the high school representatives with
seedlings culled from the Great Oak, one of the Pechanga reservation
landmarks, to be planted at the schools. The Great Oak is revered by
Pechanga, who have fought battles in recent years against power companies
to save what is billed as the largest natural-growing live coast oak tree
in the world, though its natural range is only in California and extreme
northern Mexico.

It is perhaps appropriate that one of the seven schools receiving the
funding is Great Oak High School.

"It's a godsend and a blessing and our students will definitely benefit
from this donation," said Great Oak Principal Tim Ritter.

Ritter contended that several school programs would have been seriously
curtailed had they not received the donation. He maintained that state
funding of his school is on a "shoestring" and that the money will shore up
some programs that might otherwise have been eliminated.

"We just get by at best," said Ritter, whose school is in its first year of
existence and will expand from 1,300 to over 2,000 students in the next
school year.

Among the programs Ritter said will be saved or beefed up are a support
group for students who are struggling academically and a "rigorous" college
preparatory program; and a student scholarship trust fund will be
established. Additionally, the rest of the donation money will be used to
purchase new library books and placed where needed in existing academic
programs.

The donation is officially from both the tribe and its development
corporation, which essentially is the body that runs the tribe's
multimillion-dollar casino.

Besides Great Oak, other high schools receiving the donation include
Temecula Valley, Chaparral, Temescal Canyon, Elsinore, Murrieta Valley and
Vista Murrieta.