Imagine a mother, short of food one day, is unable to pack her daughter’s lunch. Happily, she is saved by The Hunger Coalition’s Snack Attack program, which helps provide healthy food for children who may not have anything to eat on a given day. Another family might experience its dog running away during the Fourth of July fireworks, only to find him safe and sound at the Animal Shelter the next morning. Or perhaps a different dog and the young boy of this family begin each morning running on a trail maintained by volunteers, one flush with native vegetation planted by The Nature Conservancy in an effort to restore what was lost in a fire the previous year.
Every day, people throughout Blaine County cross paths with the nonprofits that serve them without knowing the true impact they have.
The Wood River Foundation, through its Wow-Students program, strives to teach kids about the integral role nonprofits play in all of our daily lives by involving them in the process, donating money in their honor and providing projects for their benefit. The foundation connects classrooms and local nonprofits, providing a platform for the two to support each other, as well as the community as a whole. Through this connection, Morley Golden, Wow-Students founder, wants to teach the children of the Valley about “all aspects of generosity: time, talent, treasure, and…voice.”
The Wood River Foundation’s investors provide the treasure, the fiscal aspect of philanthropy. Each participating student has $25 donated on his or her behalf by the Wood River Foundation to bestow upon the nonprofit selected by the child’s class. The other three aspects of philanthropy are taught through projects the classrooms adopt, each specifically created or tailored to them by local nonprofits.
All of the participating nonprofits directly serve Blaine County. It is up to the students and their teachers to decide how they select a nonprofit and project. Some invite representatives of the nonprofit to make a presentation to the class, while others simply vote based on the descriptions they’ve read on the Wow-Students website. A number of teachers have made selecting a project into a project itself, having students make presentations on their favorites, which are then voted on. This all serves to demonstrate to students the multitude of ways they can help their communities, as well as the wealth of opportunities available to them.
Some students have fully embraced the possibilities, created projects or sought out causes dear to their hearts.
“We encourage the teachers and students to come up with their own creations,” Golden said. He recalled a time last year when, “a classroom, because of a family member of one of the students, wanted to participate in the Meals on Wheels program, which was not a project you could find on our website.” Wow-Students connected the students’ teacher and the Wood River Valley organization, The Connection, which runs Meals on Wheels. “We asked what we could do so the kids could get time, talent, treasure and voice, and all of this in there …They concocted a program that met our criteria, that met the teacher’s criteria,” Golden said. Children can inject their voice into these “generosity experiences,” as Wow-Students describes them, through the selection or creation of these projects, as well as during its undertaking.
Students learn about the value of “time and talent” throughout the endeavor. They use their unique skills and perspective to shape the projects and devote their class hours and field trips to volunteering. For example, this year’s third-grade at Hemingway Elementary decided to adopt the Wood River Community YMCA’s Make-a-Splash program, which teaches water safety and swimming to every child in the Valley. These students participated in the program themselves, but decided to, as Golden phrased it, “augment it with the time and talent piece,” by putting together skits on water safety and performing them at all of the preschools in the Valley. These children were able to learn the impact they could have on the people around them by contributing their time and talent.
As Liza Weekes, the head of Pioneer Montessori School, remarked, “Wow provides the inspiration for a child to connect to his or her community in a meaningful and impactful way … I believe our students directly benefit by exposure to philanthropy at an early age.”
The children of Blaine County are learning their power. Through Wow-Students, they learn about the importance of generosity and how to devote time, talent, treasure and voice into these endeavors. This program is a success if, Golden said, “They walk out of the 12th-grade and … they realize there is a broad spectrum of nonprofits serving this and every other community, and that they can tap into those.” Through these projects, students learn, Golden stressed, that “they matter. They make a difference. They don’t have to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist. You can make a difference in your community.”
Golden hopes that these lessons have a ripple effect, and that time and money spent on this program is not just an investment in local nonprofits, but in our world as a whole.