Nearly 3,500 middle and high school students from across Maine became philanthropists this year — many for the second time — as participants in Jumpstart Our Youth. Collectively, the students made donations totaling $61,000 to nonprofit organizations in their local communities. JOY was created by the Unity Foundation, and is also funded by the Maine Community Foundation and Unitel Inc. Partnering with Jobs for Maine’s Graduates in 62 schools and two youth development centers, the JOY program, in its second year, benefits community organizations serving youth and families.

“National research shows that young people who volunteer and contribute in their communities are more likely to continue their commitments as adults,” said Larry Sterrs, CEO of Unity Foundation. “Jumpstart Our Youth shows Maine’s next generation how contributing ‘smart money,’ along with volunteering, can sustain important nonprofit services. These are our future community board members and public servants and it makes sense to connect them with their communities early on.”

Each of the 64 JMG sites has $1,000 with which to make local grants. Students assess organizations in their communities, distribute requests for proposals, review applications and invite the nonprofits to present in the schools. The curriculum concludes with a decision on how to award the grant money.

Across the board, the students are serious about the task of donating the money. They review agency budgets, ask for program results and demand to know how their contribution will make a difference in the lives of local youth and families.

Students at Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston created a matrix that they used to rate the proposals received in such areas as “Overall Mission”, “Impact of Grant” and “Quality of Application.” They also placed high value on the presentations and took note when one scheduled participant was a no-show twice. “It was important to meet with the organizations so we could ask questions. You can tell some people do this for a living — they’re very polished,” said Ben Y., who led the advisory committee.

Many of the successful nonprofits benefited from the opportunity to engage the students in their work. “Anytime we have an opportunity to broaden understanding about mental illness and to reduce the stigma — especially among younger people — we feel we’re making a difference,” said Tina Clark, community relations drector at Tri-County Mental Health Services of Lewiston. Her agency received $1,000 from the sophomores at Lewiston Regional Technical Center.

Belfast Area High School students faced a unique challenge as they voted to provide a grant to the Cinderella program at the Waldo County CAP Agency. This program gives away new and gently used prom dresses to girls who might otherwise not be able to afford them. The challenge?

“Selling it to the boys!” said JMG Specialist Sarah Lawlor, especially as the whole class also volunteered during the day the dresses were given away at Reny’s in Belfast. “But we said, ‘Think about your sister, your cousin or your date,’ and that won them over. And we might start a similar program for the young men in the future.”

Capitalizing on positive student experience with a program run by the Charlotte White Center, students at Greenville Middle & High School donated $500 to the Lifejackets program. “We really worked on being able to influence our peers with positive and constructive arguments as we tried to narrow down our funding options,” said Becky Bardosy, JMG specialist for the 22 students. “Simply telling someone else that they were wrong during the decision-making process didn’t cut it.”

Other donations Included:

A total of $9,250 donated to the statewide Make-A-Wish Foundation by schools in Biddeford, Calais, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Greenville, Lewiston, Machias, Pittsfield, South Portland and Winslow.

$1,000 to the Tri-Town Ministerial Food Cupboard in Livermore Falls where high school students assist senior citizen volunteers in stocking shelves and sorting food.

$350 from South Portland’s Memorial Middle School to the Friends of Long Creek to support activities for residents of Long Creek Youth Development Center.

$1,000 from Penquis Valley High School for “Blessings in a Backpack,” where students help elementary school social workers pack elementary student backpacks with food for weekends and vacations for those in need.

$500 from Brewer High School to Camp CaPella to provide a camp opportunity for Brewer students with special needs.

$500 from Lewiston ACE students (a drop-in JMG program for high school) to the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project to put on a film festival and discussion for Androscoggin County youth.

$1,000 from Sanford High School to Caring Unlimited for domestic violence education and safety support services.