A Foundation Breaks Through to At-Risk Kids

GivingPoint Foundation Helps At-Risk Students
As Appeared in May-June James Magazine
By Phil Kent

As taxpayers and parents look at the daunting challenges facing American public education, consider what one visionary in Georgia is doing to make a difference through what he calls “promoting a human renaissance in an increasingly technology-driven society.”

While the federal government continues to spend unprecedented billions of dollars to promote learning, often with untested strategies, the non-profit world is creating innovative strategies that appear to be working. A stellar example is GivingPoint, an Atlanta non-profit founded by visionary businessman Derek Smith. In just a few years more than 3,400 students have been exposed to charitable ventures and, through them, they earned how to affect meaningful change in their communities.

Through GivingPoint, students are matched with non-profit charities and volunteer opportunities that spark their interest so that they can donate their time, money and skills in areas that matter to them to improve their communities. GivingPoint rewards students with “frequent giver” points for such things as taking online educational quizzes about important societal issues, building relationships with non-profits, logging their volunteer hours, posting projects, blogging about their experiences and recruiting others to join GivingPoint.

For every 500 points they earn, students apply for grants from GivingPoint to fund their community projects— thus becoming civic philanthropists in their own right! Smith underscores that the goal is simple: “Leverage the energy and untapped passion of youth to create stronger communities by igniting a spark and helping them develop the necessary skills to create real change.”

Checking out GivingPoint’s website reveals how students are being transformed into proud leaders. Helping these kids is emphasized by the fact that GivingPoint documents, verifies and compiles student contributions in order to produce what Smith terms “a civic transcript” that can be viewed by others. The program has taken effective root in the Atlanta and Fulton County public school system, where it is receiving wide acclaim as a model for others.

“We partnered with GivingPoint to introduce our students to a new-age technology platform that actually gets them excited to learn through service— it’s not just a school requirement to volunteer now. Our students think it is fun to create their online giving profiles through GivingPoint. They enjoy earning points by e-learning about causes, volunteering and blogging about their experiences. They think it is cool to have the opportunity to give cash grants to the organizations they love,” says Dr. Darin Jones, principal of the New School of Health Sciences and Research.

To date, Smith says GivingPoint and its students work with approximately 200 nonprofits and 85 donors and corporate sponsors. Students have earned enough points to donate over $20,000 back to the community. And particularly noteworthy is that some underserved students have leveraged their “civic transcripts” to receive college scholarships.

There are many spinoffs of GivingPoint’s “service-learning” vision that integrates meaningful community service with academic study. One example is a youth-led project in Alpharetta. State Farm Insurance Co. joined forces with GivingPoint and the YMCA of Atlanta to support an initiative that addresses environmental stewardship, childhood obesity and healthy lifestyles. The State Farm Youth Advisory Board granted GivingPoint $60,300 to work with youth to create an outdoor classroom at Alpharetta High School. Students and community members worked to build a garden and volunteered with special needs students to create artwork for the project. It was an enriching experience for all involved, and is but one sampling of what can be done to transform both students and a community. Check out the pictures and videos on the GivingPoint website (www.mygivingpoint.org) on how 2,000 square feet unsightly land became a beautiful, productive garden.

GivingPoint is the first nonprofit in the country to offer an online, interactive platform that teaches youth how to find their passion and earn “points” for writing about their volunteer experiences. Furthermore, teachers can incorporate GivingPoint’s virtual and hands-on service learning into their courses. Faculty members can view the progress of a student’s project and reward students for outstanding volunteer work.

A documentary film was recently released titled “Waiting for Superman.” It chronicles how all too many elementary and high school students are not being motivated to do their best. Talk about schools “waiting for Superman”! GivingPoint can’t address all the problems facing our educational system, but GivingPoint serves as a powerful online tool for families, schools and communities to help pull students away from their electronic gadgets and encourages them to form meaningful connections with others. The students are learning to communicate, interact and relate to each other as human beings— thus promoting mutual respect. Who can argue with that?
GivingPoint’s online support network reminds us that “public education” is not simply the buildings and bureaucracy that support “the education system.” It reminds us that public education is about children and their whole development as a life-long contributor to society— however that happens. GivingPoint is one of those proven ways that makes it happen.

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