Story last updated at 12/31/2008 - 11:45 am
A new extracurricular activity at Juneau-Douglas High School is having a positive affect on both the students involved and some of their peers in need.
The Youth Action Committee (YAC) was created in 2007 by the Juneau Community Foundation (JCF), a local charitable organization that locates financial needs in the community, facilitates funding and promotes charitable giving. The YAC functions as real-life practice in fundraising and philanthropy. There are about a dozen students involved, mostly sophomores and juniors, joined by adult advisors.
Juniors Haley Nelson and Nick Parker serve as club coordinators. They are responsible for running the meetings, coordinating interviews and facilitating discussions during their monthly gatherings. Of the many youth-related issues in the community, Nelson and Parker decided that helping homeless youth was their top priority.
"A lot of the time, the aid for teenagers goes into places that are definitely needed like drugs and alcohol, abstinence and sexual education," Nelson said. "What we do is focus on the smaller issues that maybe don't get as much attention but still need to be addressed."
Last spring the committee issued a request for grant proposals and received three. Not too long afterward, the group received $10,000 from the local Douglas-Dornan Foundation that allowed them to fund two of the three proposals.
The YAC awarded $5,000 to the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter to fund 26 days of shelter and support for runaway and homeless youth in Juneau. They also awarded $3,870 to SAGA for the purchase of camping equipment for Juneau youth to participate in the Serve Alaska Youth Corps. The remaining $1,130 has been saved to use as seed money for the next granting cycle.
JCF Executive Director Ken Leghorn acts as an adult advisor to the YAC along with Peter Jurasz. He advises the students in every aspect of the granting process, such as prioritizing their criteria, deciding what grants will have the biggest impact, preparing press releases and presentations, interviewing groups that submit proposals, and ultimately awarding the grants.
Leghorn sees the YAC as an incredible learning experience for the students.
"It's opened a whole world to them of not just how nonprofits work but how fundraising, philanthropy, and grant-making works," he said. "Most people assume that giving away money is something easy to do. These kids are learning that to do it responsively and effectively is a huge challenge."
Paul Douglas has been with the Douglas-Dornan foundation since its start in 1994. The foundation's primary focus is to offer grants annually to nonprofit organizations in Southeast Alaska that are working with youth in some way. He had been searching for a place for the foundation to transfer its assets, so when he learned of the formation of the YAC, he jumped on the opportunity.
"This seemed to me like kind of a natural fit," Douglas said.
The foundation made the commitment to underwrite the YAC grants for the first year, also serving as ad hoc advisors, and trying to encourage the committee to continue growing their operation and doing good work.
"That's pretty significant," Leghorn said. "You don't see people giving $10,000 to a youth group very often to spend as they see fit."
Nelson said many of the students involved in YAC are considering future careers utilizing the skills they are learning.
"It's a good opportunity for us to outline the issues facing teens, namely at JDHS, and evaluate what has to get done and how we can help," she said. "It's kids helping kids, which you don't see too much. We have access to all these great resources that allow us to help teenagers and students in a really big way.
"We're learning how to be on a community foundation that helps the people around us. That's how it's affecting us, and that's why we do it."