Several McLoughlin Middle School students were entrusted with a $5,000 grant and tasked with administering it to nonprofits that shared their mission to help troubled youth in the community.
The students formed a small foundation, created a mission statement and got to work researching local nonprofits, reviewing their grant applications and evaluating their work in the community.
During a school assembly Friday, the students presented checks to the nonprofits of their choosing, including $1,500 to Maslow Project, a resource for homeless youths; $1,500 to Hearts with a Mission, a shelter for homeless and at-risk youths; and $1,000 to the Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County, a center for the prevention, treatment and prosecution of child abuse. The students also combined the remaining $1,000 with money raised by the rest of the school for its Sparrow Club child, Izabell Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last year.
"It's really cool to see young people helping young people," said Fallon Stewart, a case manager for the Maslow Project.
The grant, sponsored by KOBI-TV President Patsy Smullin, was part of Oregon Community Foundation's youth philanthropy initiative, Community 101. Last year, 62 schools statewide participated in the program, including Crater, Phoenix, Eagle Point and St. Mary's high schools and Washington Elementary, and awarded more than $310,000 to nonprofits.
This year, McLoughlin health and physical education teacher Nina Ford decided to integrate the program into her leadership class after she received an email from Smullin, who offered to sponsor the program at the school. Smullin has sponsored Washington's C101 program for about a decade.
"It's pretty darn exciting to be discussing philanthropy with a third-grader," Smullin said. "I want people in the early stages of their lives to know what it means to give to others."
Although she supports the students financially, Smullin said they do all the work and make all the decisions.
The first thing the leadership class did was survey the student body to identify needs in the community. Students' top five concerns were child abuse, hopelessness, suicide, bullying and rape.
Instead of targeting just one issue, the 21 students in Ford's class formed a mission statement around helping "troubled youth."
Groups of four students visited five of the nonprofits that applied for the grant and presented their findings to the rest of the class.
Rebecca Newell, 13, visited the Maslow Project and one other nonprofit and asked what their mission statement was, whether they were meeting their financial obligations, how many kids they helped and where the money would be used.
"Becca came in with a notepad and was taking furious notes," Stewart said. "I think for them it was eye-opening to know that some teens have to come (to Maslow's Resource Center) every time they want toothpaste."
Newell said the leadership class selected Maslow Project as one of the grant recipients because it was a "solid organization" that was giving directly to youth.
"They also are the only organization that gives food to teens without a photo ID," added Maizy Kesterson, 14.
Stewart said the money would be used to purchase food, clothing, hygiene items and camping equipment for homeless youths.
The class also chose Hearts with a Mission and the Children's Advocacy Center after both nonprofits guaranteed that the money would go directly toward resources for kids.
"It was hard to say 'no' to people, because we wanted to help everybody," Maizy said. "It makes me realize that I have a lot of stuff that other people don't."
Tammi Pitzen, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center, said the grant would be used to train adults to recognize dangerous behaviors in adults and signs of sexual abuse in children. Jessie Lenford, a case manager for Hearts with a Mission, said the organization will apply its grant to providing homeless teens with emotional support and resources, such as food, clothing and shelter.
"I think it says so much about these kids, that they recognize the need to support this type of program that would keep their peers safe," Pitzen said.