By Meghan Pipe
A group of students at Boltz Middle School is making it their mission – literally – to help youth in need. The seventh- and eighth-graders, who participate in the Give Next program, have spent the school year learning about the role of nonprofits and philanthropy in their community and creating their own grantmaking program. Now they’re reviewing grant applications. This spring, they’ll award more than $5,000 to Larimer County nonprofits that help children.
Give Next, a program managed by Bohemian Foundation, provides middle and high school students with hands-on experience in philanthropic giving. Each classroom receives $5,000 of Give Next donor funds to award to Larimer County nonprofits. Give Next donors include local businesses, foundations, and individuals, who can donate any amount. Students work together to identify community needs, choose a focus area, create their own mission statement, research nonprofits, volunteer, conduct site visits, review grant applications and make funding decisions. They often do extra fundraising throughout the school year to supplement the grant awards.
Boltz Middle School student and Give Next participant Skyler Young said, “I often feel like I am powerless because I am so young. I often feel as if there is nothing I can do for others.” But collaborating with her classmates to explore community issues, learn about nonprofits and make real-life funding decisions have shown the 13-year-old that she does have the power to get involved and enact positive change in her community. “Give Next has given me the chance to make a difference, even though I am just 13.”
Combating the feeling of powerlessness that Young describes is central to the mission statement that she and her classmates created to guide their decision-making this year. In the statement, the students say: “With the generous support of classroom donors Steve and Leslie Taylor and our entire Boltz community, the Boltz Give Next Student Advisory Council will award our grant money to Larimer County nonprofits that focus on the prevention of child abuse and the assistance needed to help young victims. We feel this is a relevant issue, and we are youth who want to help other youth.”
At several points during the school year, students at Boltz met with nonprofits to learn about their work. Both Young and her classmate Jenna Brecheisen said their most memorable Give Next experiences included these face-to-face opportunities. “My favorite part of Give Next was when we had the opportunity to go around Fort Collins and visit three different nonprofits,” said Brecheisen. “This opened my mind to what problems our community faces, and how we can help.”
“It is amazing what nonprofits do and how selfless the people who work for them are,” said Young. “Crossroads Safehouse is the most inspirational to me, as it provides many more services than people realize. For example, they help find temporary homes for the pets of people who need to stay at the Safehouse.”
According to Boltz Middle School teacher and Give Next advisor Kirstan Morris, the empowerment her students feel as Give Next participants come, in large part, from the fact that the program’s donors trust her middle schoolers to make important funding decisions. “The donors believe in my students in a way that no other adult does – they entrust this money to their Give Next work and show faith that my students are worthy of that trust. These donors are helping me grow future leaders and compassionate citizens. I am grateful to them beyond words.”
Eighteen schools currently participate in Give Next, and more than 1,500 Larimer County youth, teachers, nonprofits, community volunteers and donors have played instrumental roles in bringing this program to life since its start in 2012. More than $350,000 has been granted so far.
Bohemian Foundation funds all program expenses so that every donor dollar can go directly to student-selected nonprofits. Give Next aspires to reach all 28 traditional, alternative and option middle and high schools in Thompson and Poudre school districts by the 2020-2021 school year. Hear more from the students, teachers, and donors of Give Next by watching a short video at bohemianfoundation.org/givenext. If you’d like to learn more or become a classroom donor, contact Jodie Riesenberger at email@example.com.