Zoom screenshot of 25 CommuniCare participants smiling into the camera.
This reflection was submitted by Emily and Ella, former CommuniCare participants from St. Mary’s Academy. Emily and Ella participated in CommuniCare for two years and served as leaders of their school’s groups.

Everyone wants to make a difference. Service has always been a principal part of our lives, but it is often difficult to figure out how to take action. As juniors at St. Mary’s Academy (SMA), we became members of our school’s founding chapter of CommuniCare, a youth grantmaking program of The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. CommuniCare allowed us to utilize our voices, stand up for what we believe in, and make a difference.

CommuniCare has been one of the most impactful extracurriculars we have participated in during our high school careers. We joined in 2019-2020 out of our passion for social justice and excitement to change the world for the better. During our first year of CommuniCare, our group collectively decided to award grants to nonprofits supporting Portlanders experiencing houselessness. This decision stemmed from a deep feeling of responsibility to uplift the people in our city who are failed by Portland’s high rent and property costs and shortage of living-wage jobs. Our chapter met once per week and Ella became a liaison between the chapter and outside organizations, coordinated with the managers of local businesses to organize fundraiser events, and communicated with nonprofit representatives to schedule interviews. Emily scheduled, managed, and baked for our numerous bake sale fundraisers and also drafted our mission statement. 

In the recent 2020-2021 school year, SMA’s CommuniCare chapter expanded into two: the Pink Chapter, which we led as the Chapter President and the Communication and Events Manager, along with our Fundraising Manager, and the Green Chapter, led by a separate leadership team. Each chapter had unique students, leaders, mission statements, and methods of fundraising. As the Communications and Events Manager, Emily collaborated with school leaders and trained other students as CommuniCare representatives in the Portland community, while organizing and scheduling nonprofit interviews. As the Chapter President, Ella conducted weekly meetings, worked closely with our advisor, and oversaw committee work within the chapter. We are proud that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we successfully transferred our meetings into a fully digital format, including fundraising, and that the program thrived at a time when the community needed assistance more than ever.

This past year, the Pink Chapter focused on relief for Oregon Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities experiencing houselessness and the Green Chapter worked tirelessly to support nonprofits providing relief to Indigenous communities, immigrants, and refugees in Oregon. Both chapters exceeded their fundraising goals and were thrilled to interview and donate to many amazing nonprofits. Some methods of fundraising this year included an online silent auction, a virtual cooking class, a cookbook of student and teacher-contributed recipes, and an online game night. We were thrilled that both chapters were able to award over $15,000 each to Oregon nonprofits. 

Most of SMA’s CommuniCare participants were new to the program this year, and each participant was fantastic at jumping in to help our Oregon community members. Sydney-Kate, a member of the Pink Chapter,  reflected: “I joined CommuniCare because I wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way that inspires change. To know that I am directly helping the lives of those experiencing houselessness across our state fills me with gratitude and hope, and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to give back to those around me while also growing my leadership skills.”