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Class project: give

Students choose three charities to support through competition

Students hung on his every word as Kenowa Hills senior Shaun Powers shared his dad’s cancer story with classmates.

Shaun was just 4 when his dad was diagnosed with cancer. While his parents didn’t tell him at the time, the impact on his family’s life was major.

“It went into remission, but a second cancer came back later and we’re still dealing with that now,” said Powers, who gave a group presentation with local charity Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids as part of a new University of Giving course taught by teacher Pamela Flint.

Troy Vos, youth engagement manager at the Kids’ Food Basket, addresses the audience during the final round of presentations. His charity won the top prize of $5,000

The class assigns students the challenge of donating $6,500 from University of Giving donors to three charities. Several groups of students research and pick charities they want to support, form teams and co-present with representatives from their chosen charity to classmates.

Over the semester, they whittle down the list. After three rounds of presentations, students finally vote on which organizations get the money.

“It’s a really great class,” Shaun said. “It teaches kids how to be more open with their feelings, and to understand there’s always somebody to talk to. Honestly, winning isn’t everything for me. I’d love to help, but just the chance to be able to spread the word and show people what this is about means a lot.”

The winning charity receives $5,000, followed by $1,000 for second place and $500 for third.

“The teams compete against each other by preparing the most compelling presentation they can build to win the hearts and minds of their fellow students,” said UGive founder Richard Williams, president and CEO of Williams & Company Financial Services.

The University of Giving launched a pilot partnership with Hudsonville Public Schools during the 2016-2017 school year.

And the Winner is…

Kids’ Food Basket won 50% of the class vote and the grand prize of $5,000 after the final round of presentations Dec. 17 at Kenowa Hills High School. Grand Rapids Pride Center received 32% and Safe Haven Ministries got 18% of the vote.

“This is amazing,” said Troy Vos, youth engagement manager at Kids’ Food Basket. “Five-thousand dollars is a lot of money for any organization. This is all going into feeding the youth; these kids are going to get fresh fruits and vegetables from our farms, and a protein.

University of Giving founder Richard Williams addresses the class as they vote for the top three charities on Dec. 17. Williams signed three checks totaling $6,500 after the vote

“It’s making a difference right here for the kids.”

Kids’ Food Basket provides daily “sack suppers” to 8,800 children in 52 West Michigan schools where at least 70% of students receive free or reduced-cost lunch.

“It hits kind of close to home with us,” said Kenowa Hills junior Lydia Bauer, who was on the Kids’ Food Basket team. “I think it’s amazing having high schoolers do something they’re passionate about and it helps them give back to the community they’ve grown up in.”

Williams said the joy of presenting checks never goes away even after eight times running the program in local high schools. He is hoping to involve more schools statewide and even nationally.

“There are so many stories that have come out of the University of Giving from all the different organizations and it just pulls at your heartstrings for sure.”

Williams modeled the competition after the TV show “Shark Tank.” He said he can hear the passion students develop for charities when they present.

“Suddenly, the student is engaged with helping someone other than themselves,” he said. “They learn so much about the real world in a unique way.”

Many students today don’t realize what philanthropy and charitable giving is all about, he continued. “UGive helps them understand that there are needs right in their community.”

Kenowa Hills Principal Nate Robrahn and Superintendent Jerry Hopkins watch final presentations

‘Always at Capacity’

Earlier in the semester, Safe Haven Ministries board member Ashley Ward presented with her team of students. She shared her personal experience of being in a toxic, abusive relationship and needing Safe Haven services.

“I knew I didn’t want my daughter to see me this way,” said Ward.

Safe Haven helped her start over. She finished college, found a job and started her own business three years ago. She now donates 10% of her income to Safe Haven. “I learned so much more about domestic violence and how I was being abused,” she said.

Ward said 56 women and children stay at the shelter every night. “It’s always at capacity. It’s definitely a huge need.”

Sophomore McKenna Buehler,  who was on the Safe Haven team, said she was sold on the charity after learning about it at the beginning of the school year.

“It surprised me how common it is,” McKenna said. “It got me thinking I want to try and help, and this would be a really good way to help.

“I don’t really like talking in front of people, but I love this. It feels like more than just a class presentation. I get to help other people and try to give back.”

Flint said she likes her students’ ambition in supporting charities. “I am hopeful this will grow into students volunteering and maybe even finding their purpose, paying it forward so to speak.

“This has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve done as an educator of 29 years.”

After watching the presentations, Superintendent Jerry Hopkins said it was refreshing to see the students involved in making the community a better place.

“The more I learned about it, the more I knew it was the right thing to do,” he added. “We’d love to see this continue. It’s new for us and seems to be a great success.”

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.

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