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Eagle Fund Change Makers: Thinking, Feeling, Doing

By Marti Champion, Head of Middle School
Educators are constantly looking for ways to introduce the “real world” to their students. Oftentimes, it looks like breaking down the four walls of the classroom and going out into the world. After last year’s work with World Leadership School, I took their sentiment around purpose-driven learning and created the Eagle Fund: Change Makers class with support from the original Eagle Fund.
The Eagle Fund was founded by eleven Graland alums in 2002: hence the name “Eagle Fund.” They based their organization around the common goal of creating a non-profit early in their careers to give back to the Colorado community. As they have advanced their professional endeavors, they have remained united around the fund’s ability to make a difference in the lives of young Coloradans and have given to over 15 organizations in their brief history. 

I began meeting with Jon-Erik Borgen ’92 and Ryan O’Shaughnessy ’93, two of the founding members, in 2019 with the goal of creating an opportunity to involve Graland Middle School students in the decision-making process when it came to granting funds to local non-profit organizations. Knowing the impact that this kind of experience could have on these students, I created the Eagle Fund: Change Makers class with their blessing. 
Going off the original Eagle Fund mission to make tangible and lasting improvements to education in Colorado through meaningful gifts that have a substantial effect on people’s lives, the purpose of this class is to give students a hands-on experience where they work in collaboration with one another and non-profit leaders to make a lasting impact in the community. 

After reviewing the Eagle Fund mission and analyzing and discussing the differences between philanthropic and charitable organizations, five seventh grade students began their journey as the Eagle Fund: Change Makers this fall. As the facilitator I worked hard to expose these young leaders to the important work and responsibility of being a good steward in one’s community. With some guidance from Eagle Fund president Josh Holman ’94, these students, Austin, Ava, Chloe, Graham, and Marcela, who see themselves as a committee, worked together to create a purpose statement, “to donate to a Denver-based non-profit organization that supports underserved communities so that a long-lasting impact is made,” that has served as their north star when creating a process to select an organization to fund. Recognizing that each person brought their own passions to the space, they worked well with each other to choose categories and then organizations to research, contact, and visit so that each member of the committee felt empowered to make the best decision possible. 

The top six organizations the committee researched were: Denver Dumb Friends League, Freedom Service Dogs of America, The Gathering Place, Lutheran Family Services, Mental Health Colorado, and Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Armed with thoughtful questions meant to uncover the need each organization is addressing, students asked the non-profit representatives: 
  • How is their organization solving problems in innovative ways?
  • What challenges does the organization face?
  • How can we help?
  • What does the organization do with the donations they receive?
  • Tell us a story of the impact the organization has had on the community.
At the end of the semester, the students selected not one but two organizations to receive their Eagle Fund donations. The Gathering Place was granted $2,000 to continue their work in supporting women, transgender individuals, and children who are experiencing poverty in Denver. Freedom Dogs of America was also chosen to receive $1,500 for their dedication to transforming lives by providing specially trained dogs to those in need of assistance. After selecting the organizations, the Eagle Fund students shared their work and announced these awards to their classmates via Zoom at a Middle School assembly. We will celebrate and present these gifts in the spring when we invite leaders of those respective non-profit organizations to campus for a special lunch. Students are looking forward to taking this class again next year and making an even bigger impact on their neighbors in Denver. 

Student Reflections from the Eagle Fund: Change Makers Committee

What have you learned about working on a committee? 
“Something I have learned while working on a committee is how to be able to work with people who don’t always have the same ideas as you or agree with you. Collaboration is a very valuable skill that we use a lot in the Eagle Fund. We are constantly having conversations with each other where we mostly agree or rarely have a debate about what we think about an organization or what we should vote on. This is a class where we mostly talk to each other rather than the teacher. Something else I have learned is that it is okay when not everyone agrees on the same idea as you. For example, when we present the organizations we want to be considered for the donation, not everyone will vote on the organizations that you think are the best options. So you have to learn how to compromise even on the things that you are extremely passionate about.” - Chloe J. 

How has Graland’s mission statement impacted your work with the committee?
“Graland’s mission to prepare students to be engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders has impacted my work with the Eagle Fund: Change Makers committee. I joined the Eagle Fund to make a difference at Graland, in the world, and to grow as a person. Over the course of the Eagle Fund project, I feel like we have helped the community and will continue to make a difference. I feel I have grown in knowing who really needs help and what organizations are doing to assist those who need it. I have also discovered organizations that are helping people in an innovative, collaborative, and impactful way. I feel that at the end of this class we will have made a significant difference in the world.’’ - Graham G.

What has been the best part of being a member of the Eagle Fund: Change Makers committee? 
“There are so many amazing things about being part of the Eagle Fund: Change Makers committee. Some of the best parts are getting to communicate with the different organizations, creating the phone and email scripts, and making important decisions together as a committee. I have enjoyed meeting with the non-profits and asking questions, making presentations showing why we should donate to a certain organization, and working as a team to narrow it down to three potential organizations. It is so exciting to get calls and emails from the organizations, and to figure out new information. We work so well together and I always look forward to going to the Eagle Fund class every day!” - Marcela N.

As a member of Eagle Fund: Change Makers, what would you want your classmates to know?
“I would want my classmates to know how beneficial it can be to work in a small group with open conversations. I have had such a great experience being able to talk openly about things that I like as well as concerns. Our open conversations help to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Even when we have disagreements, we are able to talk about them and find a solution. This has given me more practice talking to and compromising with people.” - Ava J. 

What advice would you give to students who sign up for this class next year? 
“Some advice I would give to students on the Eagle Fund committee next year is to never get your heart set on one organization. In the earlier stages of our process, when we were searching for organizations we might want to donate to, we had much more control over which organizations we were working with. However, when you get to the later stages of the process, the stage we are in now, you have much less control over where your donation goes. For instance, an organization that might have been a frontrunner in previous stages might eliminate itself through a number of circumstances. One might be unwilling to work with us, while another might have their schedules booked. Whatever the case, my advice is to never set your sights on just one organization.” - Austin Z.    


Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.