Jump-Starting Philanthropy in RSU 5

Read about Durham Community School’s first year of JOY work  and Freeport High School ‘s grantmaking in the  Brunswick Times Record.

‘Jump-starting’ philanthropy in RSU 5 

                    Program has young pupils planting plum trees
                    By JT LEONARD, Times Record Staff

Seventh-graders Stacia Easler and Austin Mason, Durham Community School classmates, plan their planting of high-bush blueberries and raspberries, plus apple and plum trees, as part of a Jumpstart Our Youth program that teaches about community-building through volunteerism and philanthropy. JT LEONARD / TIMES RECORDSeventh-graders Stacia Easler and Austin Mason, Durham Community School classmates, plan their planting of high-bush blueberries and raspberries, plus apple and plum trees, as part of a Jumpstart Our Youth program that teaches about community-building through volunteerism and philanthropy. JT LEONARD / TIMES RECORD

DURHAM

For seventh-graders Stacia Easler and Austin Mason, it’s about the trees.

Specifically, they and their Durham Community School classmates favored planting four orchards of high-bush blueberries and raspberries, plus apple and plum trees to provide shade for passers-by and, eventually, food for local pantries.

Stacia, Austin and the rest of their classmates involved in the Jumpstart Our Youth program at the school have spent part of the year learning about community-building through volunteerism and philanthropy.

Jumpstart Our Youth is a branch program sponsored by Unity Foundation that’s operated for five years in 60 Maine high and middle schools through the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program. Freeport and Morse high schools have been in it since the beginning, spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said.

“They start by learning the definition of the word ‘philanthropy.’ Then they talk about state philanthropists such as (Unity Foundation’s) Burt Clifford, Elizabeth Noyce and the Libra Foundation,” Hartnett said. “They do some research and they learn that it’s not just giving money, but rather that giving money in a smart way is what’s important.”

Part of the education is learning how nonprofit organizations work to improve their communities.

The students learn about grant writing and the process of issuing requests for proposals. Students at each school are given $1,000 — by Unity Foundation and partners Maine Community Foundation and UniTel Inc. — to bestow upon whichever charitable organization they deem worthy.

Freeport High School’s class decided to give its money to Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program, an group that fights dating violence in Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties. In Durham Community School’s first year with Jumpstart Our Youth, teacher Abby Green started them off this year with “spark boards” — brainstorming a list of topics in which they were interested.

“It’s about time, talent and money,” Green said. “They learned about using time to pair up talent and money to make communities stronger.”

“Some of the ideas were music and art, some were cars,” Stacia Easler, the Durham seventh-grader, said. “There were a lot of ideas that we had to go through.”

Eventually, the class winnowed its list to four regional finalists. They drafted a request for proposals, and each of the four submitted a response. Then they invited each organization to make an in-class pitch for the grant.

“It was really tough to decide,” Austin said.

“Eventually,” Stacia said, “it just came down to numbers, and we went with ReTreeUs.”

ReTreeUs, operated by Richard Hodges and Morris Salter, teaches youths and families about home gardening, sustainable agriculture by planting orchards in schools and educating students about how to care for them.

Some of the seeds also will be sown at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. The class is planning a planting day for early May.

Austin was not broken-hearted by the decision.

“I love plums, so that’s pretty cool,” Mason said. “The only bad thing is that it’s going to take two years for them (to bloom and bear fruit), so my class will be gone. But I guess I could always come back.”