Teen Trust wraps up a year of service

The Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa’s Teen Trust program turned 25 years old this year and many CFHS students were involved in awarding grants to special causes in the Cedar Valley. Among those students are seniors Sofia Munoz and Ryan Westhoff who said they’ve both walked away with a new understanding as a result of the work they’ve done for the program.

Teen Trust is a student-run organization aimed toward making a difference in the community through service projects and allocating grants to nonprofit organizations in Black Hawk County.

Last year, the students involved had $10,000 to grant, but this year the value was increased to $15,000. The application deadline to become a trustee was also extended to Sept. 9, and more details on how to get involved can be found on their website, https://www.cfneia.org/communityleadership/teen-trust. 

Munoz said she got involved after hearing about it from her peers and on social media at the beginning of last year. “I ended up applying later in the spring and went through the interview process and started with them at the beginning of this school year,” Munoz said. 

Westhoff has been involved with the program the last two years, starting in the fall of his junior year. His first year he was a member of the group, but in his second year he became an officer and chair of the grant’s committee, which is “in charge of putting together the application through which nonprofits apply for grants and leading the discussions that we have over which organizations to give grants to.” Westhoff said his role as chair was to help guide the committee and lead discussions regarding the grants.

Westhoff said being a part of the grant committee has helped him learn more about the community and people in general. He said he’s enjoyed every conversation he’s had when it comes to who they’ll give the grants to when it’s all said and done. “I honestly find that process very fun, and it’s interesting and constructive to see the differing perspectives of everyone in the group,” Westhoff said. “It helps you see that not everyone sees the world in the same way, even if we’re all working towards the same goal.”

Alongside the grant’s committee, there are three other areas in which trustees help. Advancements committee works to fundraise more money to give out as grants, the relations committee “works to build the family aspect of the group” and the service committee, in which Munoz is involved, puts together service projects and activities to hold in the community.

Munoz said she and the rest of the service committee engaged in about 200 service hours in the community over the course of a month and half. “We did a Halloween costume drive in some elementaries around the Cedar Valley as well as some time at the Food Bank volunteering,” Munoz said. “We also made some blankets for the warming center as well as decorated bags and placemats for Meals on Wheels around Thanksgiving time.”

Westhoff, although involved in a different committee, said he also got involved with volunteering in the past two years he’s been a part of the group. “This year, we made tie blankets for a local women’s shelter as well as writing cards to seniors and families over the holidays,” Westhoff said. “We have done other projects in the past, like assembling care packages for disadvantaged families and volunteering at House of Hope.”

Giving out the grants before the pandemic struck, Teen Trust has been limited in what they can do now to help, but Westhoff and Munoz have faith that the organizations who received the grants are going to help make the community stronger in this time of need. “We’re excited to say that the money that we have given to various community organizations will be crucial in helping them make it through this difficult time stronger than ever,” Westhoff said. Munoz added that the group has been looking for service projects to complete during the crisis as well. “We have been pretty limited in what we can do, but during this time of COVID-19, our grants are having a huge impact on the non-profits who received them. We recently had our final meeting via Zoom and discussed various projects that we could do from home to help out including sending letters to nursing home residents,” Munoz said.

Both Westhoff and Munoz said they encourage students to apply to join Teen Trust, but Munoz said the outreach of this program extends past being a trustee. There’s more than one way to help them on their mission. “I encourage people to reach out to their peers who are directly involved and be a resource at the school,” Munoz said. “Sometimes a committee needs a representative from local schools to work with for a service project and knowing that there are people willing to work with us is quite resourceful.”

Westhoff said being a part of Teen Trust had made him more hopeful. “It’s really exciting to be involved in a group like this of students all across the community with different backgrounds and stories to work together for the good of the whole,” Westhoff said. “Additionally, all of the time that we spend interacting with caring, capable non-profits makes me feel good about the future of our community.”

Munoz shared Westhoff’s sentiment and said working with such like minded people has been refreshing in a sense. Seeing the aftermath of their work has also been a treat, Munoz said. “We did site visits where we talked with non-profits who received grants the year prior and discussed how the money helped their organization and the impacts that were made were outstanding and showed me that no matter your age, you can make a difference,” Munoz said.

In the end, Munoz said joining the group was a great introduction into something she is interested in pursuing more after college and it also helped her see where the biggest needs are in our community. “It has been a great experience with a group like this and seeing the direct impact is incredible,” Munoz said.

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