Students aim aid at abused children

From top to bottom: Jenson, Cimmiyotti, Groshens, Nooy.

A charitable organization of Pendleton High School students wants to help local nonprofits that help abused children. But the deadline for its grant applications is looming.

The group is called Community 101, a service learning program the PGE Foundation - the corporate foundation of Portland General Electric - started in 1997 to introduce high school students to the importance of leadership, service, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

This is the second year PHS students have operated Community 101, which has $5,000 to give to qualified nonprofit organizations that focus efforts on helping abused children.

PHS senior Jessica Jenson, who started with the group last year, heads up the nine-member group, which includes fellow seniors Nikki Groshens, McKennon Cimmiyotti and Cassie Nooy. Brianna Conlon, junior, and sophomores Hannah Busskhol, Mersadees Glenn, Erin Lasher and Cory O'Neill round out the squad, aside from its advisor and PHS business and computers teacher Josh Jones.

"It's a really great program, it can benefit people," Groshens emphasized. This also is her second year in the program because she said she likes that it helps others.

Jenson and the other seniors expressed some concern too few organizations know about Community 101, and thus aren't applying for possible funds. The PHS squad has mailed letters and applications to 10 organizations.

But this crew is determined to find if there are more that might want to apply.

And now is the time to get them during "the calm before the storm," Nooy said, because applications are due no later than Jan. 31, 2008. After that, the group can't consider it.

Community 101's overriding mission is to provide students with real-world learning opportunities in philanthropy and volunteering. The PGE Foundation also finds sponsors for the program. This year it has 13, with the Oregon Department of Education and AAA Oregon/Idaho each providing $2,500 to the PHS group to give out.

Teachers apply to the foundation to incorporate the program into the school's curriculum. But it's up to students to determine what important community issue they want to address and to form their own smaller charitable organization. The students also hold official ceremonies to award the grants, and students give an average of two to four hours a month to a volunteer activity.

Last year, the PHS chapter focused on organizations that helped keep teens busy and active and off drugs and alcohol, so it gave funds to the Pendleton Swim Association and the Pendleton Center for the Arts, among others. Jenson explained for this year Community 101 conducted a survey of PHS students to help determine where the money should go. Child abuse came out as the No. 1 issue students wanted Community 101 to address.

Since starting, more than 6,500 Oregon students in Community 101 have awarded more than $1.2 million to nonprofits. This school year, 33 high schools are participating. Most are in the Portland-Metro area, and PHS is the lone participant east of the Interstate 5 corridor.

All four PHS seniors are sincere about working in this program, and while they agreed this will look good on college applications, they said Community 101 provides much more.

"It also gets you involved in the community," Cimmiyotti stressed.

Further, Jenson said the members will get to see first hand where the money will go because they will conduct site visits of grant recipients. That's something she and her senior cohorts anticipate having significant emotional impact.

"It's a big wake up call," Jenson said.

Which also is what they hope to send to qualified nonprofits that can use the funding.

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