Berrien County Teens Are Making Big Decisions with Grant Dollars

  “Bake sale!” said TEAM member Natalie Smiy as she and a group of 15 teens from around Berrien County grappled with which classroom mini-grants to approve. “They can fund that one with a bake sale.”
  The discussion had teenagers considering sustainability, project scope, student learning versus entertainment, and learning from each other about the disparity between school districts. TEAM (Teens Exhibiting Able Minds) is the Youth Advisory Committee for the Berrien Community Foundation. Each year high school students from districts throughout Berrien County come together to make grant decisions about the best use of funds coming from the Berrien Community Foundation Youth Leadership and Development Endowment. The fund generates about $50,000 annually for programs and projects aimed at enhancing the lives of young people in Berrien County. 
  This year one of the many projects TEAM tackled were classroom mini-grants to provide teachers a funding source for unique classroom experiences or to fund a gap in needed materials at a school. The group reviewed proposals, scrutinized budgets and worked together to make the best decisions. 
  “They take the responsibility seriously,” said Berrien Community Foundation President Lisa Cripps-Downey. “I’m glad because we rely on them to bring the youth voice to the table.” 
When making grant decisions, there is no school rivalry, said TEAM member JR Sheriff, a Senior at Bridgman High School. “When it comes to a common goal, it doesn’t matter what school you’re from,” JR said. “We learn to work together…I get the feeling I’ll actually use this skill in life one day.” 
  TEAM meets once a month throughout the school year. In addition to the mini-grants, they also review larger grants (up to $10,000) from non-profit organizations throughout Berrien County. In the last grant cycle the group awarded $41,650 to seven organizations in Berrien County after a lengthy grant review process and interviewing the potential grantees.
  “I love TEAM because it gives me the opportunity to have an impact in my community for the better,” Smiy a St. Joseph High School Junior said. “It also helps me learn more about what problems our society has and I learn how to help fix them or cope with them.”
  Next up for TEAM is a small grant for an organization in Berrien County that is working to help teens cope with pressure. TEAM members spent a recent meeting discussing what they thought was the greatest need for young people today. For many, coping skills as they face the many pressures of school, home and work were the most important. With their input, Berrien Community Foundation staff will seek programs that deal with youth coping skills and let them present their case to TEAM for funding. 
  In addition to grantmaking, TEAM participates in some service projects as a way to learn more about the needs in their communities. As a group they have helped plan and throw a Christmas party for kids and mentors in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass program. TEAM members have brushed horses for the Therapeutic Equestrian Center, written notes to seniors for the Area Agency on Aging, and helped students with their homework at the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor to name a few.
  For some students, the opportunity to give back, lead and learn is life changing. Once shy to ask questions River Valley High School Junior Allyson Olson now leads discussions. “I’m a different person than I was 2 years ago,” Allyson said. “I can talk, approach and engage with people and not feel so awkward.”
  Another potential perk of being a TEAM member is the opportunity to receive the Carol A. Oehlhaffen Youth in Philanthropy Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded each year to a graduating Senior who has demonstrated leadership and proven responsibility in TEAM. The award is $1,000 for the first year and can be renewed for $2,000 per year for the three years following. Each year, the students look forward to applying for this scholarship. It is a huge honor to receive.
  “I think the teens who participate in TEAM get a rare opportunity to see the work of the non-profit sector and to make decisions that help shape our community,” Cripps-Downey said. “I think it gives them a better understanding of the needs in the community and I hope will leave them with a desire to volunteer and give back.” 

TEAM Recruiting New Members for the 2016-17 School Year
  TEAM is currently recruiting new members! TEAM is looking for Berrien County students who will be a Freshman or a Sophomore in the 2016/2017 school year and are willing to commit to meeting once a month during the school year.  TEAM members should have an interest in philanthropy and collaborating to help their community.  There is room for 20 members on TEAM and we hope to have a representative from every high school in the county. The application can be found on the Berrien Community Foundation’s website at Applications are due May 16, 2016.
  For more information about TEAM, please contact Berrien Community Foundation TEAM Advisor Adrienne Glisson at or (269) 983-3304 xt. 2.
TEAM Golden Acorn Mini-Grants Awarded.
Deadline set for next round of classroom grants

TEAM has awarded over $5,000 in Golden Acorn Classroom Mini Grants to Berrien County schools. These grants of up to $500 were awarded to 13 different projects at 11 local schools. The next grant deadline for Golden Acorn Classroom Mini-grants is May 13. Applications are available to Berrien County teachers at 
The TEAM Golden Acorn Classroom Mini Grants were awarded to:
  • Benton Harbor Charter School $495.00 K-4 Literacy Project
  • Buchanan High School $500.00 Kiln Purchase
  • Coloma High School $500.00 Spanish/French Art Institute Trip
  • Coloma Intermediate School $408.00 Classroom Subscription
  • Countryside Academy $500.00 Uplifted Gardens
  • Countryside Academy $184.70 Wiggle Worms
  • Lakeshore Middle School $493.51 7th & 8th Grade At-Risk Student Project
  • Roosevelt Elementary School $422.94 Guiding Readers Program
  • New Buffalo High School $475.00 Solo and Ensemble Library
  • Upton Middle School $500.00 Raku Reduction Pottery Supplies
  • Upton Middle School $400.00 Drug Goggles Purchase
  • E.P. Clarke Elementary $249.97 Weather Monitoring System
  • Watervliet Middle School $500.00 Chihuly Inspired Sculpture Supplies