Eight local groups walked away with $10,000 in additional funding, courtesy of 19 Clatsop County high school students who in turn learned the importance of giving back to their communities. Either way you look at it, the community won.
This year’s Community 101 program – one in Knappa and another in Astoria – put students in each program in charge of a mini-foundation worth $5,000, giving them the responsibility of equitably doling it out to to local nonprofits helping with a societal ill they identified as a priority.
The program, started by the Portland General Electric (PGE) Foundation in 1997 and organized by the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) since 2008, is funded by corporate and local sponsors.
One class in each high school taking part received the $5,000 allocation from corporate or local donors for grant-making in the areas of arts and culture, education, the environment and healthy families. This year, 68 high school classes gave out a total $340,000 to Oregon nonprofits.
“I think we at the Oregon Community Foundation and the PGE (Foundation) hope students will have a connection to their communities that they might not have have otherwise,” said OCF’s Jenessa Datema, who’s still working her way around the state to award ceremonies.
Knappa focuses on abuse, abandonment
Kody Sporseen, 18, a senior at Knappa High School, said he had little idea what he was getting into at first. The Community 101 program is designed for an entire class, but he and fellow senior Tia Fish, 18, ended up seeing Knappa’s second year in the program to completion.
“The first thing we had to do was make out a mission statement,” said Sporseen. “We wanted it to go toward food, shelter, clothes supplies and entertainment. We felt that was more benefitting to the kids directly.”
He and Fish wrote requests and secured local funding. Knappa is one of only two schools in the state able to fund its program entirely from local community members. It received a total of $5,000 from Ed Johnson (a current school board member) and Jan Johnson, the Autio Company and Jim Carlile (a former superintendent). Teevin Brothers is another local company that regularly takes part in the program.
Fish and Sporseen identified the nonprofits most aligned with their goals, visited their sites and interviewed them. In the end, they gave:
• $2,000 to the North Coast and southwest Washington chapter of the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. The alliance is run by Patricia and Peter Fessler, who also run Penny Wise Thrift Store in Warrenton. The money will support the couple’s purchase of the Heaven Sent Boarding House, which once paid off, will support the alliance with rent collected from its tenants.
• $2,000 to the Healing Circle, a Portland-based group, to fund its annual two-week camp at Camp Kiwanilong in Warrenton.
“When we interviewed them, they just had so many goals they wanted to meet,” said Fish of the chosen nonprofits. “We really felt in our heart that they needed the money.”
Fish and Sporseen also gave $1,000 to Knappa’s booster club, which Fish said is constantly fundraising for various causes, to purchase a new Logger mascot suit.
“We feel it was a very good learning experience for them, and they went about it in a very professional manner,” said Peter Fessler, adding that he was surprised by the questions asked and research done by the students in advance.
Through separate funding, they also raised more than $900 for Happy Homes for the Handicapped, an orphanage in India.
Astoria donates to five groups
Lindy O’Bryan, a business and freshman transitions teacher at Astoria High School who advised during Community 101, said she chose her the 17-student yearbook class to work through the program because they’ve demonstrated a dedication to see projects through. The group includes seniors down to sophomores.
“Every nonprofit that applied had a very worthy request,” sad O’Bryan of the eight or nine applicants, five of whom were funded.
The Astoria program focused on nonprofits dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, stress, child abuse and teen pregnancy. Clatsop Court-Appointed Special Advocates received nearly half the grant money.
“They just seemed more fit for what we were trying to get,” said 16-year-old sophomore Keanu Yokoyama, who co-chaired the Community 101 program for AHS. “They cover everything.”
Seventeen students from the school’s yearbook class awarded a total of $5,000 to five local groups, including:
• $2,270 to support the Clatsop Court-Appointed Special Advocates program, which provides volunteers to speak for the best interest of abused and neglected children in court and child welfare systems.
• $1,000 to fund free events for AHS’ Sober Activities for Everyone (SAFE) program.
• $850 to fund a kitchen at Astoria Rescue Mission, a home that feeds , clothes and houses people in need.
• $500 to Hope House of Lutheran Community Services Northwest to lower the cost of 15 mental health counseling sessions for the public.
• $380 to The Lighthouse for Kids, a community-based medical facility for the assessment and prevention of child abuse, for a new digital video recorder for archiving and recording.
“The high school children are expressing empathy for those abused children,” said Ann Lederer of CASA. “A lot of kids take their own family for granted. I think that (grant-making experience) carries forward into the rest of their lives.”
O’Bryan said that next year, the AHS program will also become locally funded, with Van Dusen Beverages providing the grant money.
Community 101 spreads across Oregon
“I’ve been to five or six award ceremonies this week,” said Datema. “I try to go to all of them, but we have a cadre of 1,600 volunteers.”
Community 101 started in 2008 with 35 high schools in Oregon taking part. The program now includes 68 schools throughout Oregon and continues to spread with OCF’s volunteers reaching out. Foundations have also flocked to the program, said Datema, with such groups as the Meyer Memorial Trust, Ford Family Foundation, State Farm Insurance, the Juan Young Trust, the Collins Foundation and other private foundations funding the grants.
Students at both Knappa and Astoria said they took away a deeper understanding of social inequities – in their backyards and around the world – from this program.
“I officially became an adult throughout this program,” said Sporseen.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.