Another school year has begun in West Marin. For many youngsters, classes will range from mathematics to history and English, but for a few brave teens, the biggest lessons will be found in the world of fundraising — as they learn about philanthropy and generate real money for local nonprofits.
And thanks to the newly-formed West Marin Fund, their earnings will be matched.
“This is a really good cause and I hope you can be the leaders of it,” Michael Mery, West Marin Fund board member, said Monday evening at West Marin School. He was presenting the project, which is launching this fall, to the Tomales Bay Youth Center — also known as the Lounge — amid the board games and chalkboards filling the old music room where the teens have their headquarters.
“Not to sound insensitive,” one boy asked, “but how does raising this money for a nonprofit benefit us or the youth center?”
Mr. Mery turned to him and answered: “For every dollar you raise, the West Marin Fund will match it.”
Those funds will be donated to the West Marin Field Committee, delegated to the Lions Club, and then used to fund the year-old youth center, which provides after-school and weekend activities to dozens of kids in grades six through 12.
Chris Eckert, who has been directing the youth center since its beginning last May, said that help will be much appreciated.
“There’s a couple things that we need,” he said. “One, it could be put toward additional staffing and hours. On a Friday night we might have 40 or 50 kids. We do have volunteers but it’s a lot to ask for them to be here for six hours at a time, and it’s hard for us to find volunteers that are willing to do that, and I understand that, so we’d like to work out compensation.”
Additional money, he said, could go toward field trips — such as those the youthcenter hopes to sponsor to San Francisco to watch Giants games or tour Alcatraz — as well as programming and materials.
While Mr. Eckert knows the opportunity will benefit his program, he’s excited for the experience and education the kids will get as well. “There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations out here. The students getting to look at all of them and decide which they want to support is a great education,” Angelo Sacheli, a Lions Club member who sits on the youth center advisory board, said.
Deciding which organizations they want to contribute to is an important factor, echoed West Marin Fund board member Gary Ireland.
Mr. Ireland sees the youth philanthropy initiative as a chance for the kids to become more active in their environment. “It’s like taking ownership of this community and really figuring out how to become part of it,” he said.
He and Mr. Mery said they are more than happy to visit the Lounge for further conversations with the children as they learn the basics of fundraising.
“I think the part I want to emphasize is that [the adults] are not doing the work. The children are,” Mr. Mery said. “They’re going to be planning everything, going around, and learning how to be proficient in a nonprofit world.”
Mr. Eckert, along with some of the older teen members of the youth center, did have some immediate concerns. “We still have a bunch of questions that we would like to have answered before we start with this project,” Mr. Eckert said. “Education is one of them. We want to have someone educate the students on fundraising.”
Another issue they raised is the project’s cap on fundraising amounts. Currently the limit for fundraising for any one organization is $2,000, and the teens have the opportunity of raising that sum for up to 25 different nonprofits, but they’d like to be able to raise more money per organization.
“We need to meet with Michael and Gary again and figure out a sort of happy medium,” Mr. Eckert said. “But I do understand why they made the cap $2,000, because they want the kids to learn about a lot of nonprofits, not just one or two.”
Mr. Eckert plans to introduce the opportunity to teens after tomorrow’s first day of school, as well as on Friday, during a brainstorming session.
“It’s a great program but it really does need to come from the teenagers and whether or not they really want to do this,” he said. “It’s all about them.”