By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A McNary High School leadership class is once again doling out some $5,000 to worthy causes.

The class is still seeking recipients through the end of February. The Community 101 program was funded by State Farm and promoted by the Oregon Community Foundation.

Each year students survey their peers and find out the issues they feel are most worthy of the funds. Though the student body has gone through virtually 100 percent turnover in the five years the class has been asking questions, answers come back the same: Suicide, teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse rise to the top.

“We had about 35 things – homelessness, voter turnout, a wide list,” said Jason Heimerdinger, a McNary teacher who leads the class. “We’ve had the same results every year – teens turning to the issues that are closest to them.”

They develop a mission statement. This year’s addressed not only the issues identified in the survey but also boosting “positive after-school activities for students.” Senior Kate Pedersen said activities like the science club and Powderpuff football, both of which have received money in the past from Community 101, benefit students in a variety of ways.

“Participating more, they’re less likely to get in trouble out of school, and it gets them more excited to go to school because they have something to look forward to,” Pedersen said.

In the process students learn about the local resources available to people in need, be it for addiction, fleeing abuse or just a warm meal.

“I’ve definitely gained a sense of community and trust in the people of Keizer,”  said Desiree Opico, a McNary senior. “I know if I ever fall into a situation where I need help … I would know who to turn to and that there would be resources to help me.”

Opico has been in the class since her freshman year, and is taking on a leadership role as a senior.

“The students’ role is to carry out the program and it’s their responsibility to find a nonprofit organization,” Heimerdinger said. “It’s their responsibility to vet all of them, interview the people running it … and select whoever needs the money the most.”

And just because something’s a good cause doesn’t mean it’s the right fit.

“Sometimes they have great causes but it’s not the group we’re trying to reach,” Opico said.

Groups receiving funding in the past include Recovery Outreach Center, Mid-Willamette Valley Women’s Crisis Center, Children’s Educational Theatre, Liberty House and Family Building Blocks.

Heimerdinger said students gain a greater sense of what nonprofits do.

“It’s opened their eyes to philanthropy and fundraising, and the concept of jobs in the world of fundraising and nonprofits,” Heimerdinger said, “a different world that’s not just capitalistic, not just going out and making money.”