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Phoenix students hope grant tackles issues

Agroup of students at Phoenix High School is working to tackle some of the toughest issues faced by teens at their school — including pregnancy, bullying and drug use.

The school's Community 101 group meets each day during a leadership class, and earlier this year it handed out a survey asking students what they believed were the biggest issues at the school.

The results showed that teens were most concerned about drug use, followed by pregnancy and bullying.

"The bullying kind of surprised me, because I don't really see that at our school," said Victoria Balzer, a Phoenix junior who is leading the five-person group.

Balzer said she is also surprised to see girls at her school who are becoming pregnant.

"It's just crazy," said Balzer, 17.

The team representing Phoenix High is one of 62 participating in the Oregon Community Foundation's Community 101 program, which gives school groups across the state initial sums of $5,000 to award to local nonprofits.

After Balzer's group identified some issues at Phoenix, they began seeking out local organizations and inviting them to apply for the money and help tackle the issues.

Phoenix High is participating in the program for the fourth time this year, and is one of five schools in the Rogue Valley taking part, according to Jennesa Datema, youth philanthropy coordinator for the OCF.

"Southern Oregon has one of the largest concentrations of Community 101 programs," said Datema. "The teachers and students are really engaged and receptive."

Students sent out grant invitations to local nonprofits two weeks ago and are hoping to hear back from interested organizations soon.

"The grants are for a good thing, and so we hope they will apply," said Balzer.

Students hope the organizations will work with the school to put on an event or an awareness campaign that relates to one of the school's social issues.

Phoenix students hope to raise funds on their own to increase the $5,000 and award more money. On Saturday, students will hold a clothing swap at the school in which people pay $5 to swap out any number of clothing articles for other items.

The initial $5,000 for Phoenix is being provided by the Harry and Marguerite Kendall Fund of the OCF, the PGE Foundation and Dr. Elisabeth Zinser, former president of Southern Oregon University.

Datema said the program can provide valuable skills to students, who will visit the nonprofits that apply for the money before dispersing the awards in the spring.

"Students express empathy and compassion, from the heart, about their experience in the program," said Datema.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.