News from the Field: Students at Rochelle HUB Learn About Grant Writing

Thanks to grants from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL) and the Rochelle Area Community Foundation, students at the Central School site of Rochelle Helping Us Build (HUB) 21st CCLC will now receive healthy snacks after school. Because the students helped research and write the grant applications, they have also developed new skills and made a long-term contribution to their 21st CCLC program. 

The project came about because Central School had no refrigerators on site, which limited snack offerings to nonperishable food like goldfish crackers and pretzels. Because many of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and don’t arrive home before evening, the program leadership wanted to provide a more substantive snack for the students. 

The Rochelle HUB team sought support from CFNIL because the 21st CCLC program had an established relationship with the foundation, and they thought their program’s needs were a good match with CFNIL’s In Youth We Trust grant program. Aimed at programs whose members are primarily 19 years old and younger, the grant program involves youth in both the application and the review. Applicants are required to be involved in every aspect of the grant process, writing the application, interviews, and participating in any grant check presentation for their organization. On the review side, CFNIL recruits high school students from the northern Illinois community to serve on the In Youth We Trust Council. Council members make a year-long commitment to learn about the CFNIL history, mission, and purpose; attend monthly meetings; participate in grant review meetings; evaluate grant applications; identify community needs; and advocate for CFNIL. 

When Central School afterschool participants learned that they could have refrigerators to hold healthy snacks if they helped write a grant, they responded with enthusiasm. Students chose different teams to join, including researching the best refrigerators for the program, meeting with district and school-based maintenance staff and local electricians to be sure the site could accommodate the electrical needs of the refrigerators, and researching the importance of healthy snacks in child nutrition and learning. The project director and two other staff members facilitated the process while the students were responsible for each aspect of the project from start to finish. When the students completed their research, they gave it to a team of grant writers, who compiled the grant according to the expectations set forth by the CFNIL and In Youth We Trust group. The Rochelle HUB students completed an identical grant for the Rochelle Area Community Foundation, which had agreed to match the funds provided by CFNIL. 

The 21st CCLC team was excited to see the students’ enthusiasm and the new skills they learned. Project director Amy Hayden attributes the enthusiasm to students’ genuine excitement about providing high-quality, nutrient dense snacks for the program, as well as their ability to select their responsibility within the grant process. They were often eager to discuss their progress on the grant even when they weren’t working on it. “Often times, their work would continue well after the afterschool program was over, which is exciting!” says Hayden. “It’s an educator’s dream to see . . . students so engaged in projects that they want to spend their free time working on it.” 

When Rochelle HUB was selected to interview for the second round of the selection process, four students from the program participated in the interviews. When the 21st CCLC program learned that they had been awarded the grant, students were invited to attend a reception along with the other grant recipients to celebrate the students’ efforts. Members of local service organizations, CFNIL staff and trustees, parents, and community members also attended the event, and students had the opportunity to share information about the project and how it would benefit their program.

Thanks to their work on the CFNIL and Rochelle Area Community Foundation grants, students at Rochelle HUB’s Central School 21st CCLC site now enjoy a cold supper provided by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which includes fruit, vegetable, grain, and dairy. Even with the grant complete, students continue to use their problem-solving skills: Once the refrigerators were installed, the 21st CCLC leadership team soon realized that providing more substantive snacks meant that students needed more time to eat. The students were quick to address the problem, however. “When I asked the students how we could solve the problem, they immediately responded that they had already talked to our site coordinator about solutions to this problem,” says Hayden. The afternoon schedule was revised, allowing students time to enjoy their cold supper and also participate in the other afterschool activities. “It was very exciting to see the students putting their problem-solving skills we’d taught them into action,” Hayden adds. 

In addition to learning leadership and problem-solving skills, students in the current class have had an opportunity to see that they are part of a larger community, Hayden notes. Their work means that the 21st CCLC program will be able to provide healthy snacks for students who participate in the program long after the grant writers move on. “When we discuss that aspect, you can see the pride on the students’ faces as they realize this is a way for their footprint to be left on Central School for years to come,” says Hayden.