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Teens reach out to community with student-led foundation

Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on May 18, 2017 8:31PM

Last changed on May 18, 2017 9:38PM

Freshman Emily Rinehart, the only non-senior in the fledgling CommuniCare Club at PHS, introduces a grant recipient Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts during the miniature foundation’s first grant award ceremony.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Freshman Emily Rinehart, the only non-senior in the fledgling CommuniCare Club at PHS, introduces a grant recipient Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts during the miniature foundation’s first grant award ceremony.

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Abby Rinehart, president of the fledgling CommuniCare Club at PHS, shakes hands with Debbie McBee of Altrusa during the club’s first grant award ceremony Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts. Rinehart presented three Altrusa representatives with a $1,000 check for a program that helps homeless students.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Abby Rinehart, president of the fledgling CommuniCare Club at PHS, shakes hands with Debbie McBee of Altrusa during the club’s first grant award ceremony Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts. Rinehart presented three Altrusa representatives with a $1,000 check for a program that helps homeless students.

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Dania Larios, a member of the  CommuniCare Club at PHS, stands back and listens after presenting a grant award check to Chris Clemens of Neighbor 2 Neighbor  Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Dania Larios, a member of the CommuniCare Club at PHS, stands back and listens after presenting a grant award check to Chris Clemens of Neighbor 2 Neighbor Tuesday night at the Pendleton Center for the Arts.

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Eight teenagers finished a long humanitarian journey Tuesday night by giving away $8,000.

Last fall, the Pendleton High School students formed a tiny foundation called the CommuniCare Club. The philanthropists-in-training learned about nonprofits from advisor Jill Gregg. They raised $500, which was increased by the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation with an additional $7,500. The students invited nonprofits to apply for grants funding projects geared toward homelessness or scholarships.

After fielding a dozen requests totaling $20,000, the students conducted interviews and site visits.

Whittling the list down was incredibly difficult, the teens discovered. They didn’t anticipate caring quite so much.

“I didn’t expect it to be as emotional as it was,” said Dania Larios. “Throughout the process, I didn’t think any of us imagined how it would impact us or our community.”

On Tuesday evening at the Pendleton Center for the Arts, the teens presented checks to representatives from their six chosen organizations. One by one, they stood at the microphone in front of a Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation backdrop and addressed grantees, a smattering of parents and three representatives from the Schnitzer Foundation.

Club president Abby Rinehart told the audience that the year of trying out the role of philanthropist changed her.

“This club has really opened my eyes to what many don’t see — homelessness, hunger and suffering,” Rinehart said.

One recipient, Susie Stuvland of CAPECO (Community Action Program of East Central Oregon) said she choked up during the phone call from a club member telling her of a $2,350 award to purchase supplies for Project Community Connect. On Tuesday, she accepted the check with a solemn expression.

“We will do good work with this,” Stuvland promised the students.

The CAPECO grant was the biggest dollar amount. Others ranged from $500 (awarded to the Oregon East Symphony for a scholarship that will be matched with another $500) to $2,000 (awarded to the Pioneer Relief Nursery for diapers and hygiene items). Altrusa of Pendleton accepted $1,000 to purchase an assortment of items and services for homeless students. Neighbor 2 Neighbor, which runs the Pendleton Warming Station, received $650 for sheets for bunkbeds. The Blue Mountain Community College Foundation got $1,500 to help financially struggling students with small scholarships for such things as food, fuel and even haircuts.

“It makes a huge difference,” said Margaret Gianotti, of the BMCC Foundation. “When they get to the end of the month, $25 is a lot.”

Neighbor 2 Neighbor coordinator Chris Clemons had led club members on a tour through the warming station, answering questions about the facility and the homeless people stay there. Their professionalism made an impression.

“They took it seriously. They are the people who are following us,” he said. “They will continue to carry the baton.”

Advisor Jill Gregg drew the biggest laugh of the night after the awarding of the final check.

“So we are now out of money,” she said.

The club will rev up again next year with the one non-senior member (freshman Emily Rinehart) and a new crop of young philanthropists.

The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation started CommuniCare about 20 years ago in the Portland metro area. Pendleton is the only non-Portland school participating. The foundation’s executive director, Barbara Hall, explained that the couple’s son, Portland businessman Jordan Schnitzer, has a special relationship with Pendleton.

“Jordan has a strong connection with Pendleton and felt strongly about giving back to this community,” Hall said. “So we made an exception.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.





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