By Jackie Fender
There are dozens of non-profits in the Pacific Northwest, all of which invest time and resources into causes that their participants feel passionate about. Whether collecting food for the shelter, raising funds for those stricken with loss and illness, cleaning public park areas, or are elbows deep in building homes for those less fortunate, there is one non-profit, Peace Out, whose mission is to aid many by teaching youth what it means to be a philanthropist, providing the tools and confidence needed to make a difference.
With roots in University Place, Peace Out has been encouraging youth to be civically engaged and community minded for several years. I reached out to Peace Out founders and mother and daughter team, Michelle and Amber McLean, to get a year end recap and find out what’s next for the non-profit.
Jackie Fender: First things first, tell me about Peace Out’s mission:
Michelle McLean: Our mission is to inspire teen philanthropy. We believe that our youth have a unique capacity to make a difference in their community and should be empowered, rewarded and encouraged to do so.
Peace Out is a dynamic, successful program that teaches youth about the power of philanthropy and awakens in them a passion for giving back to the community. The core focus of the Peace Out Teen Philanthropy Education Program is to help youth identify, address and lead efforts for positive change in their neighborhoods and communities. Last year, teens raised funding and awareness for 21 local non-profits; focusing on social services such as basic needs, healthcare, education, art, and a wide variety of human services. They also engaged many local civic clubs, businesses, and adult mentors, to complete 26 community volunteer projects. More than 400 youth contribute over 5,000 volunteer hours each year.
JF: Tell me a little bit about 2014. You’ve added some layers to the mission and reached out to some new groups, yes?
MM: In 2014 we acquired the University Place Volunteer Center and created the myGive project. Through myGive volunteers, businesses, schools, and community organizations can come together to support charitable causes while earning recognition and prizes. MyGive allows each individual to follow their passion, support their cause, and celebrate their contribution.
We also launched a new project that brings our philanthropy programs to low income apartment complexes and alternative schools. Many at-risk teens struggle finding transportation to after school programs so we bring ours right to them! A manager of the apartments says, “Many of our teens struggle with the stigma attached to living here. A program like Peace Out gives them a positive connection to the community.”
JF: What are some things you have coming up this year? Any fundraising events, sessions, expansions or anything you’d like to tell us about?
MM: We are expanding our apartment project to include more Tacoma neighborhoods and schools in 2015 as well as offering our programs to adults in transitional housing. Through our program participants gain an unparalleled awareness for the significance of philanthropy in society, and a keen understanding of the importance of their own role as contributors to the community.
JF: In the years of engaging with teens and developing them as young philanthropists, what has been the most meaningful aspect? What have they taught you?
MM: Teens chose a non-profit to raise awareness and funds for during our eight-week program. The most meaningful is working with at-risk youth, who through Peace Out, are able to select a non-prifit that once served them. One teen said, “I chose NW Furniture bank because they helped my family furnish our apartment. Now I can help buy them a bed for someone else.”
What they’ve taught me:
- Everyone deserves and enjoys the opportunity to serve their community.
- When you can find something you are passionate about, compassion comes easy.
- You don’t need tons of money to be a philanthropist.
- Kids and adults alike enjoy recognition
Amber McLean, Michelle’s daughter, then piped in, saying this was her favorite question: On the first day, I love asking [youth] what they think a non-profit is. Almost everyone says, “a business that doesn’t make money.” [I enjoy] watching them grow through the eight weeks and leave the class completely educated on what a non-profit really is and how they are ran. I love when students really connect with their cause. Whether it’s a disease/illness they (or someone in their family) have, or something they’re passionate about like music, art, gardening, etc. It is so awesome to know they can connect to it through Peace Out and learn how to give back to something that is special to them.
I think the most valuable thing I have learned through Peace Out is how important it is to accept people for who they are. I have found a new passion for individuality and acceptance. I absolutely love getting to know each student and understanding why they are who they are. We all have different values, backgrounds and interests, and I guess I just never realized how much I appreciated uniqueness until now.
Interested in learning more about Peace Out or know a local youth who would be interested in volunteering? More information about Peace Out can be found on their website.
Photos courtesy of Peace Out.