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Style: Folsom | El Dorado Hills

Invest LOV: Students Who Serve

Jul 27, 2018 04:41PM

When Vista del Lago teacher Janice Johnson chose Invest LOV as the name for her new nonprofit, she wasn’t looking for a cutesy spelling. LOV is an acronym for “Lessons of Vera” to honor Johnson’s mother, Vera Earlene DeWitt, who was devoted to helping others. DeWitt passed away in February, but her spirit of volunteerism endures through Invest LOV, which Johnson spun off from a leadership class she started at Vista last fall to help teens learn to get involved in their communities. “This generation is going to be pretty awesome,” Johnson says of her students. “They don’t understand it yet, but they’re going to do a lot.” The 30 kids in her class last year already have a head start with two successful community projects under their belts.

"These kids learned it doesn't take a million dollars to make a difference."

Johnson’s curriculum followed a real-world process. She divided the students into six teams and charged each with finding a need in the community and developing a project to address it. The teams were responsible for planning, budgeting, setting up a timeline, and proposing their ideas to a panel of judges, Shark Tank-style. One project would be awarded a $5,000 grant—donated the first year by Johnson—to turn the idea into reality. For the first two weeks, Johnson says, the kids thought the money was hypothetical. “When they found out it was real, they freaked out.”

Key to the students’ success was mentoring by city leaders, who spoke to the class about needed community services and where they could be enhanced. Some of these leaders acted as judges for the students’ pitches. This year’s winner, revealed at a formal ceremony, was “Nice Tice,” led by junior Lauren Tice, who came up with the idea to refurbish out-of-use parking meters and install them in local agencies to collect coin donations. The team bought the meters on eBay, designed them, wrote text, and hired someone to do the restoration work. Now, nine meters are destined for three nonprofits: Powerhouse Ministries, Folsom’s Hope, and 3Strands Global. “This class inspired me so much,” Tice says. “I didn’t feel like we could actually make a difference in the community, but it opened a lot of doors for other ideas on how I can help.”

This year also had a bonus winner: A donor funded another team’s project to update the “ragtag, pieced-together” interior of Powerhouse Ministries with bright, functional new IKEA furniture the kids built. Once the grants were announced, the whole class worked on the winning projects.

Lauren Tice, Dre Barba, Janice Johnson and Netashia de Bruyn

Johnson cut her teaching schedule to part-time this coming school year to raise money for Invest LOV, which will fund future projects, and to promote the program to other schools. She would like to see more teams of kids be able to fund projects, either by raising additional money or by apportioning smaller amounts where possible. “These kids learned it doesn’t take a million dollars to make a difference,” Johnson says. “It would be wonderful if every school had this.”

by Linda Holderness

photos by Dante Fontana

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