February 26, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

The books have been turned over to investigators and those with accounting experience and the Elgin-Imbler kids are back at work, raising funds.

They really want to go to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York, no matter what.

After a wrenching week of learning that one of their adult leaders, Leann Dona Thompson, had been charged with forging checks and taking money from their account apparently thousands of dollars the 15 or 16 eighth-grade students from Elgin, Imbler and home-schoolers from La Grande decided not to be beaten.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the group of young people and adults came up with a new plan.

We just decided that were going to look forward, not back at what weve lost, said Georgia McKee, one of the adult leaders.

That doesnt mean the students will definitely be leaving for the trip to East Coast historical sites April 5. It just means they are determined to do all they can to make it happen.

McKee, who has worked with the Elgin-Imbler Philly trip for 10 years, says the group has until March 15 to make its next major payment to secure reservations and pay deposits.

The trip costs each student about $1,525, money they raise individually and through group fund-raising through the year preceding the trip.

When the Thompson allegations became public last week, the group appeared to have no more than about $4,000 left in its account.

As for the March 15 deadline, we have to make the payment then, or the trip cant happen, McKee admits.

So the work goes on.

McKee has received donations from individuals and from businesses and service clubs already, and has heard that other groups may also be helping the students.

The La Grande Lions Club has made a $1,000 donation and Telfax is donating $500. A total of $383.50 was raised at a La Grande Rotary Club meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, proceeds from a special Wednesday sandwich special at the Imbler Cafe will benefit the trip while the Imbler Market will donate part of its proceeds during March to the students efforts.

Other volunteers will donate baked goods to the Philly groups bake sales this weekend at Foodtown in Elgin, and next weekend at Shopn Kart in Island City.

A can and bottle drive in Elgin and then La Grande is also set for the weekends, McKee said. Those with cans and bottles can call Mary Ann Sweeney at 534-5373 to arrange pick up.

Good things are happening, McKee says. Were still thousands short, but were looking ahead and not dwelling on what weve lost.

The kids are worried, of course, and weve told them that we cant give them 100 percent assurance that they can go, but our attitude is, were still going.

Those who can help the Philly kids make their trip can call McKee at 963-2860 or 963-4630, or contact Susie Marshall at Pioneer Bank. The groups address is 65214 Webster Road, La Grande 97850.

Thompson was arraigned last week on two counts of first-degree theft and three counts of second-degree forgery. She has been released and given until March 8 to post bail.

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it