Nurturing a philanthropic community

While the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is known worldwide for its philanthropic leadership, on the sleepy western edge of Ballard another institution has developed as a cutting-edge incubator for the next generation of philanthropists.

Adams Elementary, Ballard's philanthropic juggernaut

For the last five years, Adams Elementary School has been cultivating young leaders and empowering them to make a difference.  In connection with Solid Ground’s Penny Harvest program, Adams students have  raised many thousands of dollars for area nonprofits. In the process, they have created a community culture of engagement.

“The whole school really buys into it,” said parent volunteer Bobbi Windus, who has coached the Adams Penny Harvest effort all five years.

“The kids really look forward to it and I really love seeing the kids develop their leadership skills.” Windus said. “Now that we have done it for several years, younger kids are really looking forward to it. [I hear things like:] ‘Oh when I am in Fourth Grade, I’m going to be on the leadership team!’ A mom emailed me at the beginning of this year. Her younger daughter had just started kindergarten and she was thrilled to death when she got her penny collection bag because she had seen her older brother do it.”

Daniel, Riahna and Roscoe carry some of Adams' 2011 harvest

This year Adams students collected 22 sacks of change, totaling nearly 700 pounds of coins, and a few hundred dollars in paper money.

Erica Slotkin volunteered to deliver Adams’ 2011 harvest to the Penny Harvest office earlier this week. A parent at the school, with a son who is now on the Leadership Roundtable and a daughter whose kindergarten coin collection jar was overflowing, Slotkin also works for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental agency that has received support from the Adams Penny Harvest.

“It’s been really rewarding for me as a mom and as a community member,” she said. Two years running, I’ve been able to take my son to the spring Penny Harvest Youth Summit as a younger kid not yet involved. He was able to watch and get to see what was going on at that level. To be able to share what I do as my work with him was also really neat.”

The Roundtable is each school’s leadership group. They promote the coin harvest, assess what issues students are concerned about, and make granting decisions with money allocated to them by Penny Harvest.

Riahna points to Caring Cards in the school cafeteria

Every student at Adams participates in identifying issues by writing or drawing on Caring Cards that the Roundtable groups by theme. The cards are displayed in the school cafeteria.

This democratic process gives them guidance in their research of area nonprofits. In 2010 Adams granted $1,000, which was distributed among Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, PAWS and New Beginnings shelter.

Roscoe, who is now serving his second year on the Roundtable,  was a strong advocate for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “I really like what Puget Soundkeeper is doing, because my family has a boat,” he said. “I hate it when we go through really polluted water.”

In addition to allocating grants, the Roundtable coordinates community service projects, such as a food drive to benefit the Ballard Food Bank, or a toy drive to benefit Treehouse.

Adams students also make an annual video project to promote the Penny Harvest.

Display boards at the school promote Penny Harvest

“You have to hit the ground running, because the Penny Harvest occurs early in the school year,” said Windus. “That first year I said, ‘Guys we have to do a kickoff assembly,’ but not a single one of the students was willing to talk at the assembly. So, we came up with the video idea.”

This year’s video features Abe the Penny looking for ways to be helpful around the school. Previous videos have spoofed Star Wars and taken other lighthearted approaches to promoting philanthropy.

“It’s really become a deep part of our culture,” Windus said.

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Tyree Scott Freedom School seeking applicants

The Tyree Scott Freedom School is an amazing way for young people ages 15-21 to learn about racism and how to organize to undo it. A joint project of the American Friends Service Committee and People’s Institute Northwest, it brings together the best anti-racism organizers in our community and offers a profound opportunity for the next generation of leaders. Details are on the flyer (below), or email Dustin Washington to learn more, or to apply. Applications due July 15!

Luncheon preview: A bigger chance to change the world

Maybe you are thinking: How is this fundraising luncheon different from other fundraising luncheons? Because at this event, we present to you true hope for the future. Here’s a little sneak peek…

We’ll also have moving testimony from folks who have made the transition from homelessness back to solid ground, a captivating keynote speech from Dan Savage about the It Gets Better Project, and 800 folks who, like you, think that building community to end poverty is not just a good excuse for lunching together, it’s what we do. Every day.

There are still seats available, tables to host and sponsorships to buy. Email meganl@solid-ground.org to get involved.

Penny Harvest teaches children the power of philanthropy

Anna Zuckerman in yellow got a doggy kiss from Miss Floppy as her fellow Penny Harvest panel members looked on. From left they are Leah Zuckerman, Selma Taber, Amy Ijeoma and Chloe Denelsbeck. Miss Floppy's owner and President of AARF (Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation) at far left is Heather Enajibi. Photo by Patrick Robinson, used by permission of the West Seattle Herald.

As I sat in Room 307 at Madison Middle School yesterday, I was reminded once again why I love my job.

The Penny Harvest youth philanthropy roundtable that aptly named themselves “How to be Awesome” were interviewing organizations that they were considering granting funds.

The questions they asked “were probing and pointed and the answers provided real insights into both the spectrum and depth of their need,” according to a write up about the group in the West Seattle Herald.

I found myself uplifted by the fact that I was sitting in a room with six young people in 5th through 8th grade, and they were having open and honest conversations with adults about real life issues that our communities face every day: child abuse, homophobia, suicide, homelessness, mental illness, animal abuse. Here’s the best part: Not only were they engaged in dialogue, but they were deciding what they can do about it…and adults were coming to young people for help to figure it out!

Real change happens when we engage all parts of our community in problem solving, and young people are critical partners in creating change. These students are doing just as they named themselves, teaching the world “how to be awesome.” Thank you Madison Middle school student leaders.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in supporting Penny Harvest, or want to learn more about the program, email Mike Beebe: mikebe@solid-ground.org.

12-year-old documentarian tackles homelessness

It’s the morning after the One Night Count of homeless people in our community. I volunteered, along with numerous Solid Ground staff and volunteers, and hundreds of other folks throughout King County. We walked, arguably, every street, investigated every park bench and green space, because we want to get a more realistic picture of who is homeless in our community.

It’s a very adult pursuit, one that is sobering and, frankly, somewhat depressing. For all we are doing in Seattle-King County to end homelessness, and we are doing an amazing job developing new affordable housing and program models, we still have thousands of people living in cars, under bridges, in the lobbies of post offices.

But somehow this little movie gives me a glimmer of hope. It was put together by 12-year-old Leo Pfiefer from Salmon Bay Middle School. Leo developed this project as an entry for C-SPAN’s StudentCam documentary contest, “an annual national video documentary competition that encourages students to think seriously about issues that affect our communities and our nation.”

It gives me hope to think that 12-year olds are looking at the issue of homelessness and asking: What do we need to do to solve this problem?

It gives me hope to think about the 11- to 13-year olds I recently interviewed from our Penny Harvest program who are not just asking good questions, they are raising money and granting it to organizations that are making a difference. Keep an eye out here for more from those amazing young people.

I, for one, hope Leo goes far in this competition. We need more young people asking tough questions to the people in power. And we need them to help us formulate better answers.

still from Leo's video

CoinStar & Redbox executives hunt leads to Penny Harvest!

Execs and Penny Harvest staff pose outside Solid Ground

CoinStar and Redbox execs pose with Penny Harvest coordinator Mike Beebe (far right).

Cool: Executives attending the annual CoinStar/Redbox Leadership Summit got a little taste of what Penny Harvest does by participating in a scavenger hunt. These executives were not looking for coins though, rather they were learning about the good work of local nonprofits.

Participants were impressed with the fact that Seattle area students collected $78,836.45 – over 14 tons of pennies last year all to create positive change in their community. Read the write-up in the Puget Sound business Journal here.

What I learned at the Youth Philanthropy Summit

Cedar Valley Community School was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the Second Annual Youth Philanthropy Summit last Thursday.  This Penny Harvest event was a chance for students from all over the greater Seattle area to come together and collectively share and learn more about philanthropy and social justice work.  Ten student leaders from Cedar Valley attended the conference.  I would like to take a little bit of time to share some of what I learned last week about the students with whom I work.

Ana Lucia Degel, former Penny Harvest Youth leader

I learned that they are dedicated:  Each of them knew that it would take two or three public buses (and a bit of a walk) to reach the Seattle Center, and an hour and a half of travel time each way.  They all signed up regardless, knowing that this opportunity was important to them.  I didn’t hear one single complaint on the buses.  What I did hear were discussions about what would happen, about which cities and counties we were passing through, about how their day went, and what they learned from the different organizations.

I learned that they are collaborative: During the morning portion of the event, Cedar Valley participated in a “scavenger hunt,” learning information about dozens of community organizations.  All ten of our students worked together harmoniously.  They shared resources, helped each other find clues, and encouraged each other the whole time.

I learned that they are confident: During Lulu Carpenter’s keynote speech, our student leaders joined over a hundred other students in shouting out affirmations.  With smiles on their faces, they declared that they believed in themselves, and that they could change the world.

I learned that they aware and inquisitive: After the keynote address, there were four choices of caucus groups to attend:  youth leadership, animal welfare, the environment, and homelessness.  Our students split up fairly evenly between the latter three issues.  I joined one group in the homelessness caucus.  They were quiet, respectful, and engaged while the panel introduced many difficult concepts.  Fourth grader Allan even bravely raised his hand to ask a few theoretical questions throughout the day.  They all paid attention, and were able to share many new things that they had learned during the conference.

I learned that they are full of joy: A highlight of the day was when a seagull took off with Paola’s pizza at lunchtime.  It was totally unexpected and funny, and nobody laughed louder than Paola, even after she got a new piece.  It was refreshing to see that in the middle of a day dealing with heavy, heavy issues, they could fully experience the humor and lightness of that moment.

I learned that they will all do amazing things in their lives. It’s true.  It’s cheesy, but it’s true.  How do I know this?  They’ve already come together to accomplish some pretty amazing things.

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