MLC CommuniCare Students writing their mission statement

Corporate Philanthropy Awards 2017: Innovation in Philanthropy Awarded to CommuniCare

In Civic by Caitlin Pihl

The CommuniCare program puts students in the drivers’ seat, giving them the opportunity to identify the needs in their community and create a direct impact through grantmaking. The programs’ heart lies in student ownership, giving participants the possibility to act in service of their passion.

As president of the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Jordan D. Schnitzer is working to further develop the CommuniCare program. This year, CommuniCare was honored to receive Portland Business Journal’s Corporate Philanthropy Award for Innovation in Philanthropy. The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation developed the CommuniCare program more than 20 years ago, empowering high school students with the power of philanthropy to create positive change within their communities.

“Giving back to the community is an essential part of life. We care for one another in our community. Businesses thrive when the community is thriving. When you reach out and help others, it makes the community a bigger and stronger place for future generations,” Jordan Schnitzer said. Schnitzer continued with, “I encourage our own employees to be involved in their communities and Harsch Investment Properties supports that in many ways.

Each CommuniCare partner school has the flexibility to organize their group within the culture of their school, as part of an existing class or as an extracurricular club, meeting at lunchtime or after school. These student leaders act as their own “mini-foundations” for the school year, selecting a service area or issue they feel passionate about. Using seed money provided by The CARE Foundation, students raise money over the fall and winter months with the goal of reaching $1,500. Each dollar raised is then matched 10:1 by The CARE Foundation, up to $15,000. The students spend the spring completing the grantmaking process by reviewing proposals from nonprofit organizations whose work aligns with their mission, interviewing representatives, going on site visits, and ultimately making decisions about which organizations to fund and in what amounts. In May, students award these grants to the nonprofits they selected at the Grants Award Ceremony, held at the Portland Art Museum.

The students can also reserve up to twenty-five percent of their matched funds for programs in their school or district. Student ownership is a deeply important part of CommuniCare and the young people who participate in the program know that the adults involved trust them to make thoughtful decisions. The only requirements are that grants are awarded to 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations and that the money stays within the State of Oregon.

Over the past 20 years, approximately 1,500 students have participated in CommuniCare, distributing over $1 million to more than 230 nonprofit and school programs. Jordan Schnitzer, president of the CARE Foundation, president of Harsch Investment Properties and director of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, has worked to expand CommuniCare, which is now active in 21 high schools, up from eight in 2016. CommuniCare expects to give $315,000 to nonprofit organizations and school programs this year.