Thanks to a special partnership between the Carmel Unified School District and the Rotary Club of Carmel Valley, elementary school and middle school students are learning first hand about the work of many local charities and non-profits and how to help them financially.
Through the program Partners in Community Services, commonly known as PICS, students at Carmel Middle School, Tularcitos School and Carmel River School, as well as those from the private All Saints’ Episcopal Day School and Junipero Serra School, determine where they want to allocate money provided by the Rotary Club of Carmel Valley.
Leadership, student government or religious classes at the five schools are provided $1,000 each by the Rotary Club, and then the students begin a careful and thoughtful procedure to select recipients of the money.
The process begins each January and culminates in May at a special luncheon put on by Rotarians at Rancho Cañada Golf Club. There, the recipients are honored and given the money by the students.
Two of the key people are Carmel Valley Rotarian Rick Shea, who has directed PICS for seven years – the program is some dozen years old – and Paul Behan, Chief Technology Officer for the CUSD. Many Rotarians and school staff members participate.
“Each year we preface the program by saying to the students that it’s up to them to decide how to donate their money,” explained Mr. Shea. “This year we would like them to concentrate on helping children, families and community. We’re trying to do a theme each year.”
“PICS cultivates that connectedness that children have to their community,” says Carmel River School Principal Jay Marden. “It also promotes their awareness of the good they can do in terms of having a direct impact on the lives of those who are served by the charities and are fortunate to receive the grants.”
Students at each school draw up preliminary lists of about 10 possible recipients, one requirement that each has a local tie, and then they narrow the list to a handful. Representatives of each of the charities and non-profits come to the schools to talk about their organizations. After deep discussions by the children, final decisions come in April. Students in the lower grades often participate as well.
“I would say the supermajority of the presentations have been powerful and left a real impact on the children because they do an excellent job of bringing a real personal element in their presentations,” says Mr. Marden.
The students may allocate $1,000 to a single organization or $500 each to two.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for children to really research the organizations in our own community,” says Rose Kershing, a fifth grade teacher and student council advisor at Tularcitos School. “They often come back with organizations that are not as well known. We ask them to go beyond the obvious. One is not necessarily any more worthy than others.”
This is a learning and developmental experience.
Mrs. Kershing says the students learn about “discussion and the arts of argumentation and presentation…. They take it very seriously and they know they are being given a gift. It’s wonderful to watch the process of them making the decision.”
“They really do feel a responsibility to make the right choice,” says Veronica Craft, a counselor and the Peer Assistance Leadership group advisor at Carmel River School. “They weigh the benefits of one versus the other. There really is so much need. It’s a tough decision to make. I make it a point to help, but I make sure they are really doing the work.”
“Our job is to lead them through this process, but they choose their own recipients,” says Mr. Marden.
Among questions students may pose are what sources of income do the organizations and how they would use the money.
Over the years, organizations chosen to receive the money have included Meals on Wheels, Dorothy’s Kitchen, CASA of Monterey County (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the SPCA, the Salvation Army, Shelter Outreach, American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and First Candle.“Recipients are thrilled that there’s a whole new generation that’s becoming aware of the needs in the community and doing something about it,” says Mr. Shea. “I enjoy it because I get to see young people make decisions and form a consensus. Those are tools that they will use the rest of their lives. Sometimes giving the money away is almost a secondary thing. It’s the lessons and the process that they are going through.”