In the current economic climate, saving your pennies is something everyone is doing, especially when you go to the gas pump and pay $4 a gallon. With people’s pocketbooks shut tight, when it comes to giving money away for just about anything it can take pulling an arm and a leg. Learning to give is as important as learning to receive, especially at an early age when receiving may seem more practical.
When it comes to teaching young people the importance of being a philanthropist, local nonprofit Peace Out is leading the way by example.
Peace Out is an after-school program established to teach youth the importance of civic engagement and social responsibility. Founded by Executive Director Michelle McLean and her daughters Amber and Danielle, Peace Out is an eight-week course that encompasses an education-based curriculum that directly focuses on fundraising, business, marketing, teamwork and philanthropic giving.
“We have teenagers coming from all different schools around here for a common goal, and that is helping people out in their community,” said Michelle McLean. “The kids can come here and just relax and let the worries of school and home fade away and put their time and focus into a cause that they really care about. When they come here we love mixing the kids up with other kids they might not know; it really helps them come out of themselves and be a team player.”
In Pierce County the need for Peace Out and its mission is important, especially with school budgets causing cuts in programs. Peace Out opens up an avenue for expression through art, music and physical education. Just like her mother, Student Director Amber McLean shows up every day with the mission to help teenagers change their lives and the community they live in.
“My job and my passion is to recruit kids from schools all over the area to be part of this life-changing program. Many of the kids have shared with me that Peace Out has not only made them feel good about giving, but also has improved their grades at school,” she said. “It would be great to have all the schools step up and have us in their school; in effect it would help the community.”
Peace Out, in the first full year of operations with 160 motivated teens, raised more than $4,500 for 14 Pierce County non-profits. The recipients of some of the money were homeless families, victims of domestic violence and military families.
Peace Out has changed many lives and given opportunities for students to reach their goals. Advanced Peace Out student Yuri Brizuela, 17, found his way to Peace Out so that he could work on his senior project; now he is doing so much more.
“Being an advanced student I am now connecting civic leaders in the community and working on getting other teens involved in community service,” he said. “I have a passion to give. I just feel great when you can make a difference in someone else’s life; knowing I am part of helping my community is a great feeling. I really want to encourage young people to get involved. There are many rewards in this program, and Peace Out also looks really great on your college application – it shows a lot about who you are.”
Every student arrives at Peace Out differently. For 19-year-old Peace Out alum Austin Starr, he thought he would just show up and get his community hours for graduation then be on his way. However, Starr was dealing with depression and found that Peace Out was not only a place to get his time in, but also to help himself mentally and emotionally.
“The first time I went through the process I needed the volunteer hours, but the second I really just felt good giving and helping our community. These programs helped me to be a better person, and also helped with depression,” said Starr. “With depression you feel like you have no one, but with Peace Out there are just always people there to help you out. Peace Out helps you do a whole lot of something and there is no pressures and you will have no regrets.”
Earlier this month Peace Out stepped up to the plate by raising $125 through various fundraising activities. The money raised will go to the Boys and Girls Club of America. The effort from raising the money to help others is a valuable life lesson.
“Even though it’s only $125, this check means a lot to this community and the organization that really needs it. That’s what we do here at Peace Out – we try to make a difference no matter how big or small,” said Brizuela.