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York Suburban students get crash course in nonprofit work

Every week, Maia Carney joins her fellow students in preparing food backpacks for district students in need, and each month she meets with her board members to go over agendas, write thank-you notes to donors and report on food closet inventories.

These are tasks district foundations typically do, but at York Suburban, students do all the legwork.

They're part of a student-run subcommittee of the district's nonprofit, the York Suburban Education Foundation.

It's called the Impact Foundation, which was started in 2015 after the the district's Education Foundation saw an opportunity to mentor students in learning nonprofit work.

"The students are doing all the work," said Sarah Reinecker, founding board member of the Education Foundation and adviser to the student arm of the organization.

Mentors work closely with students in setting up meetings, bringing in donors, managing finances and fundraising, she said.

Though financial decisions are given final approval by the parent foundation, and money is funneled through the nonprofit, students take care of the rest. They even chose their organization's name and worked with a marketing agent to design a logo, Reinecker said.

The student subcommittee's creation coincided with growing needs among district students for food, clothing and other household items. Education Foundation members recognized they could help those students while mentoring others.

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York Suburban High School senior Tara Vo sorts canned goods during the Impact Foundation's "Food for Thought" program Luther Memorial Lutheran Church Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. The Impact Foundation is a student-run organization. The collected food is delivered to area schools to provide children in need food over weekends. Bill Kalina photo

A major part of the Impact Foundation's operation is managing “impact closets” for each of the district’s six schools. Junior Krissy Sprankle, the student liaison for that project, said members get 20 to 30 requests a month for household items.

And more recently, the Impact Foundation added a food backpack program, which members dubbed “Food for Thought,” partnering with Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in 2017. 

The foundation received a $10,000 startup donation from trade organization Construction Financial Management Association and an additional $10,000 for year two with a $10,000 student fundraising match.

Students deliver food to the schools every Thursday night, and building administrators who know which students need the packs ensure they get them on Fridays.

Last fall, the student foundation added the high school to its program. Because the middle school and Yorkshire and East York elementary schools each have their own church partners, every building now has a backpack program.

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York Suburban High School junior Peyton Lando moves packed food to a delivery vehicle during the Impact Foundation's "Food for Thought" program Luther Memorial Lutheran Church Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. The Impact Foundation is a student-run organization. The collected food is delivered to area schools to provide children in need food over weekends. Bill Kalina photo

"You’re helping a kid have what they need to go to school every day and be able to focus on their education," said Carney, 18, on why she got involved.

After hearing her father, an adviser for the Impact Foundation, rave about the work members were doing, Carney joined this past year. She said the experience has also helped her learn professional skills such as time management, accountability, collaboration and grant writing.

Students helped write an initial grant request to the York County Community Foundation to start their foundation and received $5,000. Carney is among a group of students who recently wrote a grant request to Harley-Davidson seeking $20,000.

"The Impact Foundation really is a nice, well-run student organization," said Superintendent Timothy Williams at a recent meeting, calling it unique to the district.

And the program continues to grow each year. Starting with 12 board members, the operation now has 29 upperclass board members and 12 underclass committee members, along with adult volunteers.

Students sort food during the Impact Foundation's "Food for Thought" program at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. The Impact Foundation is a student-run organization. The collected food is delivered to area schools to provide children in need food over weekends. Bill Kalina photo

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The impact closets really took off in 2018 after students were better able to identify needs through home visits from student and family services coordinator Miranda King. 

The latest addition to the Impact Foundation is a partnership with former alum group Sprout of Hope last summer to plant a garden at Valley View Elementary, which allowed students to take fresh produce to the district's summer lunch program.

Reinecker said the garden is important because students actually have the option to shop for their food instead of relying on donations.

"All the families that came in were so grateful," Carney said. "The look on their faces was priceless."