Maine Students Finish School Year by Writing Checks to Charities

Jumpstart Our Youth (JOY), the statewide student-led philanthropy program, awarded 97 separate grants to organizations ranging from the statewide Make-A-Wish Foundation to the very local Bath mobile food truck.  Since the launch of JOY four years ago, students have donated $235,000 and volunteered more than 54,000 hours of time.

Approximately 3,000 Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) students in 63 middle and high school programs from Fort Kent to Sanford have been handing out grant checks to community nonprofits, capping off six months of research and decision making as they learn first-hand how philanthropy works. The work is integrated into the JMG school curriculum, helping students understand how community nonprofits benefit those in need, how they are funded and how money and volunteer time are essential to sustaining organizations.

“We invest about $63,000 each year into the Jumpstart Our Youth program,” said Larry Sterrs, CEO of Unity Foundation of Unity, Maine, who created and funds the program along with Maine Community Foundation and UniTel, Inc.

“We look at the money that we give to the students to donate to nonprofits as an investment in the future of Maine’s communities.  Young people are learning how to make difficult choices about using scarce resources.  As adults, they will be making these decisions regularly whether they serve on boards, in municipal or state government or run their own organizations.”  Sterrs said.

Students work on the JOY program throughout the school year and Unity encourages them to pursue a path that works best for their schools and communities.  Beginning in late fall they research local organizations, determine issue areas that are of interest and through an RFP process, invite nonprofits to apply for the $1,000 in grant funds that each JMG class has to award. Often, the nonprofits will make presentations to the students, allowing them to ask more detailed questions about mission and budget.  Classes will debate, vote and cajole classmates to decide which organizations should receive the funds, sometimes choosing to split the grant dollars among two or more applicants.  Some classes pool grant funds, working together to award larger grants to more than one organization.

Some classes raise additional funds enabling them to make larger grants.  For example, at Freeport High School, students put their money where they wanted their teachers to put their mouths – on Rosetta, the cow.  For $1 each, students could vote for the teachers they wanted to see kiss the cow—raising $466 to add to their JOY funds to benefit Seeds of Independence, a youth mentoring organization in their school.

“We chose Seeds of Independence because we know the organization works well in our school teaching life skills and mentoring students,” said Freeport senior and cow-owner Brittany Moon of the school-based peer mentoring program.

Finally, students arrange a volunteer service learning component in the curriculum.  For example, the Waterville Humane Society, a grant recipient, intends to form a youth education committee for Central Maine students to help young people become more responsible pet owners and to educate their peers about the importance of spay and neutering.

The Jumpstart Our Youth program will resume next fall with returning and new students.