"We all have the potential to be great leaders and to play an active role in our communities."
17-year-old Marissa Pherson's story perfectly illustrates how service organizations that involve children and youth can influence them to become the community's next generation of leaders. When Marissa was in fifth grade, she first visited the Third Floor Youth Center in St. Peter, Minnesota. Now she is the president of its executive board and is considering a double major in Social Work and Sociology, with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Marissa: I serve as the president on the Executive Board that runs a youth center.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Marissa: The Third Floor Youth Center, Saint Peter, Minnesota.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefits from this work.
teens who operate the youth center benefit by learning business and life
skills in a unique environment. It was started by three high school
students in 1997, and has been run by youth since. We write the grants and
grant reports, meet with local businesspeople and officials, balance the
books and present to civic groups.
We are guided by the advice of our adult coordinator, community leaders,
and the youth in grades 4-8 who attend the youth center. High school
and college students, and senior citizen volunteer chaperones also benefit
from their experiences and interactions at the youth center.
Our entire community benefits from the youth voice we provide our
community leaders with. Parents know their children have "a place to
be" after school.
What inspired you to get involved?
Marissa: I had been to The Third Floor when
I was in fifth grade, and liked it. I wanted to make a positive difference and to help others in my community.
How did you first get involved? Through school? Your parents? Give us some details.
Marissa: A classmate told me about it when she was on the
board. I told her to call me if they ever needed volunteers. A couple
months later I was interviewed and became the secretary.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Marissa: Representing the
youth of my community, learning about my community and its leaders,
communicating with business people, learning business skills and people
skills, interacting with the youth who visit the youth center.
What is/was the hardest part?
Marissa: Finding money is the toughest part of the
board. We can't be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (we're all under 18), so we have a
hard time finding grant money. Our grant was cut during state budget
Every now and then an adult will be difficult to communicate with or
will show disrespect. They may not have taken us seriously at first, but with time,
adults in the community have realized that we are serious and we care.
What was the biggest surprise?
Marissa: Learning how supportive our community
can be of its youth. Seeing how some adults react to youth-run ideals.
Learning how difficult it is to run a youth center. Balancing college
courses, a part-time job, volunteering for numerous hours each week, and my
personal life has been a challenge.
I also did not think I would have ever been in the position to testify
to a Senate Committee, but I was and I did.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Marissa: I have learned so many things that I
cannot begin to describe in writing, or even in words. But I will try.
I have learned we all have the potential to be great leaders and to play an
active role in our communities. I am much more likely to give to other causes, as I realize there is a
whole world out there that I impact.
I understand more about communication, businesses, relationships within
communities, families, and intergenerational relationships. I feel as though I represent my peers wherever I go, so I watch what I say and do.
Since I began working with The Third Floor, I have noticed I am more
likely to take advantage of opportunities I am given. I wasn't sure about my future career or what I wanted to do with my life
before, but now I am considering a double major in Social Work and
Sociology and a minor in Non Profit Leadership.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Marissa: Do it. Find something you
like, find something you don't like, whatever. Make a difference. Make
it a learning experience. Find your passion and share it with others.
It doesn't have to be a big project, just get involved. Give it a try.
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