Most teens do not spend a great deal of time thinking about mental illness. Given the chance to make grants in the community one might expect them to choose a more “popular” cause. For Tina Clark, Director of Development and Community Relations at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston, being invited to submit an rfp to the JMG sophomores at Lewiston Regional Technical Center provided an opportunity to talk about the reality of mental illness and its impact on every age group.
“Whether we received the JOY funding or not, we were thrilled for the opportunity to meet young people and talk about services available in our community,” she explains. Tri-County offers services for people of all ages living with mental illness, recovering from traumatic events, or just needing support to get through life challenges. “To receive a grant was a bonus, it speaks to how far we have come in reducing stigma and gives us hope that young people who need help will not hesitate to seek it out,” she says. The grant was used to support basic needs for young clients and their families that are not funded by other sources, such as clothing, books, perhaps dues to join a club. Tina concludes, “We often say that our work offers hope and these young people have given us hope for a future free of judgment and stigma.”
To educate teens about the occurrence of teen dating violence, the Young Adult Abuse Prevention program (YAAPP) works with its target population to design its programs. As part of its successful JOY grant proposal, YAAPP asked the JMG students at Deering High School to help them design an approach that would speak to their peers. The result is an exhibit entitled “Walking in their Shoes” – intended to show the many facets of domestic violence through colorful and creative shoe sculpture.
“This is so much more than one donation,” said Deering Specialist Robyn Fink, “this is students using their creative talent and growing awareness of what dating violence looks like to invest in education and prevention for themselves, their friends and their peers.”
Traditional school rivals Waterville and Winslow High Schools agreed to set competitiveness aside as they combined their JOY grant money and evaluation skills to benefit youth in the region. According to Waterville Specialist Joe Haney, “It was about how much bang for the buck . . . what is the greatest impact with the money we have?”
Ultimately the grants were awarded to the Alfond Youth Center and the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers. Steve Mayberry of the Maine Children’s Home was very impressed with the thoughtful questions the students asked during his presentation and how they brainstormed ways they could help make brighter holidays for children in need, projecting that the Home may serve 2,000 children.
And the rivalry? Waterville Sophomore Sadie Dixon weighed in, “If it’s for a good cause, I can get over it!”
The seventh and eighth graders in Kayla Lynn’s JMG classes at Winslow Middle School progressed from focusing on the needs of one, seriously ill elementary school student, to focusing on the needs of a larger community. They also looked for a way they could all help out. “We found it very hard to give away this grant,” said Kayla, “we had to design a process that allowed discussion but kept us on track as we realized there are so many competing needs. Early on it set in that working with this much grant money is a big responsibility.”
Ultimately, they voted to contribute to the Inside Out Playground in Waterville which promotes childhood development through healthy play. Through the process, the students learned about how their own involvement is important with or without the grant, and they plan to organize a “date night” at the play ground where they will donate both baby-sitting time for local parents and additional funds to the organization.
Portland High School’s JMG students contributed $1000 to the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery. The class determined that they wanted to focus support on very young kids to ensure that they were ready to learn in Kindergarten. Rather than have the Nursery staff present to them at the High School, the Portland students walked across the city for a site visit to meet their young beneficiaries and learn more about Catherine Morrill’s successful approaches to early childhood education. They also did puzzles, read books and participated in “Circle Time”. As they proudly presented their grant check,Catherine Morrill’s Director Darshana Spach invited members of JMG to volunteer time at special school events.
Warsaw Middle School made its JOY donation to the Pittsfield Public Library’s Teen Center, an effort the students can join.
Philanthropy. Donating. Volunteering. Contributing. All words that imply something given with no expectation of return. Also, sometimes a tough concept for adolescents to grasp. Keith Piehler, while serving as a JMG Specialist at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, was driving home the idea that giving time, talent and treasure are all important components of being a member of a strong community. Several students volunteered early on a Saturday morning to be part of the “Keep Me Warm” weatherization audits in their community – visiting homes and assessing ways for residents to save on heating bills. And all of the JMG students volunteered to spend an afternoon and evening preparing, serving and cleaning up a community dinner offered to thank families for their school support. And afterwards? “The students came up to me and thanked me for the chance to be involved,” said Keith, “no rewards expected, but good feelings experienced by all.”
The Sanford Junior High school students in Kara Boone’s JMG group have had the opportunity to include adult community members in their grant-making process as they learn more about what effective philanthropy is. Kara invited a school-board member who is also with the Rotary Club to speak to the students about good grantmaking practices. They have learned all about “sustainability,” “matching grants,” sweat equity” and the difference between a “hand-up and a hand-out”.
Using a prepared set of questions, the students have been able to learn more about community needs, and how local organizations respond, from other classroom guests that Kara has invited. As Kara said, “I want them to see that anyone can become a philanthropist once they see a need and have a passion to meet it.”
Using their newly developed evaluation tools, the students chose to award their JOY grant to the Waban Project, a summer camp for children with autism.
Students in Jeff Kozaka’s JMG unit cast a wide net in soliciting RFP’s for their JOY grant. In doing so, they set themselves up for both more research and a serious debate about which organization should receive the funds. The students are interested in contributing some “sweat equity” in the form of volunteer time with the organization they choose to fund, so they had no qualms in asking the organizations to clarify details on programs and budgets and about volunteer opprtunities.
The information-gathering set them up to formally debate in groups – five groups of students, each representing one of the nonprofit finalists under consideration for the grant. The debaters had to present their case for why the organization they represented should receive the grant and it made a big difference! A class poll prior to the debate placed the grant recipient – Youth Alternatives/Ingraham – near the bottom of the preference list. However, its debate team did such a thorough job in presenting its merits that it rose to the top and received the total grant.
“Share the Power of a Wish” is the slogan that captures the mission of Maine’s Make-A-Wish Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization that grants big wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. “Sharing” was also critical to the JMG participants at Messalonskee High whose semester schedule made it necessary for one group of students who had begun work on JOY to hand it off to a second, incoming group of students to complete.
“It was a challenge,” acknowledged Specialist Robin Allen, “but the first semester students created a big Wall of Wishes, posting all of the facts and accomplishments of Make-A-Wish to bring the second semester students up to speed and get them motivated around the cause.” Students were able to maintain momentum in researching the grant recipient and fully contribute to the larger community wish for Ricky Gibson who wished for the Field of Dreams – a lighted football field at Community School District 10-Marranacook, ultimately benefiting a larger community for generations to come.
Dana Mosher, Executive Director of Camp CaPella, explains the camp’s mission to Brewer high School JMG students in class.
Trying to narrow down a list of nearly 100 potential grantees to a manageable group in order to invite them to submit RFPs is a daunting task. It is not so easy for forty high school students to develop consensus. Jennifer Hikel, the Brewer High School JMG Specialist helped guide her students through the criteria and hard choices and they made interesting new community contacts through the process.
“We have built some new relationships, specifically with Camp CaPella, an organization that serves children with disabilities that had never heard of JMG. Through the Jumpstart Our Youth program, Camp CaPella has invited our students to pursue potential volunteer opportunities and we look forward to learning more.” Jennifer said that it was helpful for the students to learn more about the different community organizations as “so often we stick to what we know” which doesn’t always ensure the best outcome. Brewer High School granted $500 to Camp CaPella and $500 to Make-A- Wish foundation.