It's Never Been About the Penny

Last night at a meeting with Penny Harvest teachers and community members, I was treated to success stories about some of our Penny Harvest kids and their accomplishments. 

A couple of years ago, the Eagle Ambassadors at Lowry Elementary created libraries in two Lowry homeless shelters with the help of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.  A year or two later, the Eagle Ambassadors installed a tether pole at one of the shelter, all as a result of their hard work researching needs and issues, as well as gathering pennies to be able to put these service projects in place.

One Lowry teacher said she and a group of their Eagle Ambassadors were recently at one of the shelters working with another bunch of kids.  When one kid asked what an Eagle Abassador was, another student who wasn't an Eagle Ambassador either piped up and said, "you know the libraries in the shelters? These kids did that! You know our tether ball? These kids did that too!" The teacher said that this particular child wasn't even there during the projects, but the Eagle Ambassadors had contributed so effectively to their community, other kids knew who they were and what they had done.

Recently, I've been thinking about the name of our program, the Penny Harvest, and the message that name portrays.  What's in a name?  In this case, unfortunately, a lot of misconceived notions about what it is participants in the Penny Harvest do.  The name Penny Harvest puts so much unwitting emphasis on the pennies and the total money collected that it has become quite the challenge to explain that this is not a fundraiser.  And this is not about the pennies.

P is for power.  If we simply told the students that they had a certain amount of money with which to do a certain amount of good in the community, we'd get a certain amount of results.  However, when we start with something as small as a penny that we usually step over on the street, something that they can feel and weigh in their hand and see the pennies accumulating in their classroom jar, and then the full canvas sacks, and they can feel the weight of what they've accomplished as they're lugging those sacks down the hall, there are no boundaries to what we'll see them accomplish.  After all, they just collected 125,000 pennies, they have rallied the school and everyone is talking about all the things they could do in their community! All the changes they can make! All the choices they have! And it's all their decision.  This is the first step to proving what they can accomplish, and now that the penny is rolling, there is no stopping them.

Lowry Eagle Ambassadors - elementary school children - came up with the idea to create a library in both of Lowry's shelters, creating a safe and quiet space for kids to do their homework, read, and particpate in a volunteer program with the senior volunteers helping with literacy and tutoring. This was a need in the community that we adults had overlooked, or over-budgeted for, and these kids came up with the idea on how to make it happen with pennies.  They have created community connections, a lasting legacy, as well as a thriving culture of giving at the school.  Every year the Eagle Ambassadors participate in service projects and more and more kids are joining them.  Last night we learned that 50 kids between two classes signed up to rake leaves for the elderly, and they loved it! They were asking when they could do that again!

The Penny Harvest is about so much more than the money.  Every school that participates comes away with students that have learned that they really can accomplish projects that until recently they may have thought only adults could do.  The problem, now, is keeping up with the kids!


November is Colorado Homeless and Runaway Youth Month

Two years ago, our Impact Factory team was surprised to learn that children are homeless too.  This year, I am surprised to see just how many are homeless, just in Boulder!

Facts about Youth Homelessness

  • There has been a 166% increase in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth, ages 13-24, in Boulder County in the past two years.  In the 13-17 age group, there has been a 233% increase.
  • Within 48 hours of running away from home, 30% of Colorado youth will be actively recruited for the purpose of sex and other forms of human trafficking.
  • At least 1,500 youth and young adults ages 12 to 25 are homeless in Colorado right now.
  • Children make up 27% - the fastest growing segment – of the U.S. homeless population.

Urban Peak is one of our Penny Harvester's favorite organizations that serves homeless teens.  Find out what you can do to help this especially vulnerable piece of our society at http://www.urbanpeak.org/.


Transformational Ventures 1010 Kenya

From Guest Blogger, Kaitlyn Lyle, Transformational Ventures 1010 Kenya

Children all over the world go to school, do their chores, and play with friends just like we do in the United States. In Nairobi, Kenya, Humble Hearts School for the Deaf provides schooling for over 200 students (about 40 of whom cannot hear) and a safe place to live so kids can have the opportunity to learn, grow, and just be kids. Beatrice Anunda, director of Humble Hearts, has made it her life’s work to fight against poverty and to advocate for the rights and the needs of the children she serves. In order to support the children and school, Beatrice has begun two different income-generating activities; a poultry project and a greenhouse!

            The poultry project, which raises chickens in order to be sold, has been successfully running since 2011. It has been a source of revenue for Humble Hearts and a learning experience for the children. The kids have the opportunity to learn how to care for the chickens. Have you ever visited a farm? Lots of hard work goes into taking care of the animals! In fact, because of the cooler winter months (yes, in Kenya it gets cool at night during their winter – which is our summer!), they are in need of more heaters to keep the chickens warm.

            They also have a greenhouse in Kakamega, Kenya, Beatrice’s hometown.  This greenhouse will provide produce to both feed the children and to be sold to generate income for the school. They recently finished digging the borehole to ensure a proper and sufficient water source. They are growing tomatoes and kale as they sell nicely together.  There is a high demand for tomatoes because they are difficult to grow in the region.  On their summer breaks, the students will receive training in the greenhouse.  Do you have a community garden? Community gardens are a great way to learn about growing fruits and vegetables, and to give food back to your community!

            Humble Hearts School for the Deaf continues to thrive in the community with such exciting income-generating projects! Thank you for your support of The 1010 Project – Kenya which provides a network of support for the leaders of more than 10 schools like Humble Hearts!



Raising Helping Hands

This article from Your Family has great tips on how to raise philanthropic children! Some of the biggest are families that lead by example, and letting the child choose how and when they give their time, talent or treasure.  Take a look. 


What's In A Name? 

Everything, especially when those names are being misused.  Two articles have come to my attention recently, both supposedly being about service learning.  Unfortunately, a Vice Principal at a high school and the Philanthropy News Digest have failed to distinguish between service learning and community service, making serious claims against service learning as an effective way to create compassionate citizens and leaders in our community capable of thinking on their own, researching root causes of issues, and taking action. 

Both articles maintain that 'service learning' as they call it is not effective, and when required by the schools actually leads students to stop volunteering and participating in their schools later in life.  While this in itself is concerning, it becomes clear to those of us who actually participate in Service Learning, that both authors have confused the pedagogy of true service learning with after school and extra curricular community service, often completed by youth for required hours. 

Many people confuse the two.  In fact, I just collaborated with Girl Scouts in a workshop last weekend to teach the difference between a community service project and service learning.  Community service is most often a one time (or even regular) volunteer event such as a food drive, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or picking up litter in a park. 

Service learning is long term, researching the root cause(s) of an issue, working with a community rather than for them, working for a sustainable solution with a long term rather than short term impact.  An example project that has come out of our service learning program Penny Harvest is a school researching nutrition in their school, researching gardening, collecting pennies to fund a school garden, planting as a school community, and harvesting the garden for their school cafeteria and local community.

In another example, students were talking about homelessness and discovered that homeless kids in their community did not have a place to go to do their homework after school or hang out and be kids.  The kids researched the issue, worked with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and ended up creating a library in one of their shelters.  The kids organized a book drive in their school, and used their Penny Harvest funds for other supplies.  They also worked with the local senior citizen center to establish an after school tutoring and literacy program.  The project was so successful, they duplicated the model in a second shelter the following year. 

While community service projects are still great ways to introduce youth to giving back to their community, and very valuable shown here in Youth Service America's collection of reports, Service Learning is a very different opportunity for learning to give back.  In fact, #6 in YSA's top ten reasons for giving back states that: HIGH QUALITY SERVICE-LEARNING LEADS TO INCREASED ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT & SUCCESS.

While I understand what the authors of those articles were trying to say,it is so important that they realize the difference between community service and the true value of quality service learning.