Today on Making a Difference: Stories of Hope and Help, the Youth Empowerment Project, or YEP! A youth oriented and directed program of The Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and The Rural Schools Partnership, YEP’s mission is to empower youth to Positively Impact Their Community Through Education, Service, Grant making, and Fundraising.
The goal of YEP is to develop young philanthropists in the rural Ozarks, and of the nearly 40 southern Missouri school districts active today, YEPO, the Youth Empowerment Project in Ozark, Missouri, was one of the first to go operational. Here today to talk about YEPO, is a former co-president of the student organization, recent Ozark graduate, now MSU student, Brooke Widmar; AND YEPO’s founder, retired teacher Karen Miller.
Karen Miller: “I retired in 2002, but I was president of the Finley River Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and I went to a (YEP Informational) meeting in that capacity at the CFO, and I’m like “Hmm, I’m a retired teacher, I like kids, and this is pretty interesting.” So I got permission from the Ozark Superintendent and the high school principal, I sent out informational letters to teachers, and got a list of kids to invite to the information meeting. I was looking for 9-15 kids. I ended up with 23. Move ahead about 12 years, and the first fall YEP meeting, and I met you (Brooke) that day, and you jumped right in, volunteered for everything you could volunteer for, and I knew you were going to be good.”
Brook Widmar: “That was fun, I remember that meeting too. We made a really cool poster for the talent show, which I think they still use today. That’s also when we first started divvying up judges, and I contacted Greg Brady. (Actor Barry Williams) I sent the e-mail to his agent, and it ended up working because Greg Brady showed up to judge the talent show. I remember him walking up, he put his hand out for a handshake, but I had such a crush on Greg Brady, that I went in for a hug.”
Karen Miller: “We have done so much with that group, I’m so impressed by how YEPO worked, and you, Brooke, were a huge part of that.”
Brooke Widmar: “That first year, my sophomore year, I wasn’t a huge part of running the talent show, but I helped with a lot of the back stage stuff. The next year I was the Grants Officer, and when I became co-president, I noticed there was a lot the talent show sponsors were doing, but the students weren’t necessarily doing.”
Karen: “I think you were the student that facilitated the move from the sponsors doing the work, to the students doing the work. You were the first one to step up and say “I can do this, and it seems like it’s my job.” So what was your experience as YEPO Grant Chairman?”
Brooke: “My junior year was when I did that. I think it was really cool to learn about grants, and the fundraising side of stuff.”
Karen: “I like that because that’s my favorite part of being involved with a community foundation, or a retired teacher’s foundation, is that you get to give out grants. You get to give money to people who need it for something. The more people you can help, the better it is, and you learn to choose what’s going to help the most people for the longest period of time. And this whole program, this whole idea is, kids earning money to give other kids grant money. And the kids have to apply for the grants. They have to write the grants also, and I don’t know if you remember when the kindergarteners filled out their grant application in crayon. That was one of my favorite grant applications ever.”
Brooke: “Since then with different community projects I’ve done, more environmental related conservation stuff, I’ve filled out grants. So it’s cool, since I had experience deciding who would get a grant, and going through the application process, I knew what looked good on an application so I could tailor mine that way. You know I always say “How many students know what an endowment fund is?’ I got to learn the ins and outs of a lot of the financial side of groups, which has been a help. I like the non-profit side of work.”
Karen: When you were a senior (at Ozark) you asked me to write a letter of recommendation for the CFO YEP Scholarship, that all of the YEP kids in Southwest Missouri are eligible for, and you got that scholarship!”
Brooke: I’m using it here at Missouri State University, studying wildlife biology right now. I keep thinking if I go back for a Masters, it will be non-profit business management. And again, YEP was such a big help introducing me to that. Little did I know that joining this group, I’d learn so much with is and get such great leadership teaching me all about giving back to others. So I’m really thankful for that, and I learned a lot from you.”
Karen: “You’re very welcome, and I have to thank you, because as president of Finley River Community Foundation, I wanted to basically train future board members; future philanthropists in Ozarks, future philanthropists wherever the kids end up. You, as a leader in YEPO, influenced the kids we have now. I can see them taking a much bigger role, but you showed them how to do that in the first place, and I have a much better YEPO group now. Thank you so much!”
Brooke: “I’m glad it’s still growing.”
Since 2002, the Youth Empowerment Project of Ozark Missouri, YEPO, has awarded close to $20,000 in grants for school projects in and around Ozark, and today has 117 active members. For information about the Youth Empowerment Project of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Rural Schools Partnership: www.cfozarks.org