Tribal Government & News

Youth learn philanthropy lessons

08.31.2023 Michelle Alaimo Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Spirit Mountain Community Fund Youth Grantmaker Laney DeLoe, 17, left, and fellow Youth Grantmaker Ben Powley, 18, use aqua scopes to look for western pearlshell mussels in the Willamette River in Corvallis while on a site visit with Willamette Riverkeeper on Thursday, Aug. 10. (Photos by Michelle Alaimo)


By Michelle Alaimo


Three Tribal youth spent the summer being philanthropists.

Laney DeLoe, 17, Ben Powley, 18, and Taytum West, 16, were interns for the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Tribe. The Youth Grantmakers Program was conceived by Tribal Council member Michael Cherry while serving as the fund’s executive director.

Working together with now-Executive Director Angie Sears, then a program coordinator, the two developed the program. It was proposed it to SMCF Board of Trustees and approved in July 2019.

The program is in its second year, as it took longer than expected to implement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was developed for Grand Ronde Tribal youth to engage Native students with philanthropy, grantmaking and community service. It is designed to introduce the youth to nonprofit organizations, allowing them to better understand the need for assistance in local communities and learn how they can help make a difference, while also earning high school credit through volunteerism. The youth grantmakers are hired through the Tribe’s Summer Youth Internship Program.

Due to the short timeline the youth grantmakers have, they follow a condensed process that the fund staff uses to distribute the 6 percent proceeds they receive from Spirit Mountain Casino annually for the nonprofits who are chosen quarterly as grantees.

The youth selected five nonprofit organizations within the fund’s 11-county service area to apply for $5,000 in special funding. This year Hearts with a Mission of Newport, CASA-Voices for Children of Benton & Lincoln Counties, A Family for Every Child of Eugene, Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence of Corvallis and Willamette Riverkeeper of Oregon City were selected to apply.

After the applications are submitted, youth grantmakers worked with SMCF staff to review the applications, conduct site visits and volunteer with each organization. They also presented their funding recommendations to the board for approval.

In selecting the organizations, Sears said the youth showed a lot of thought, effort, character and heart, and it was great to see the program come to fruition.

On Wednesday, July 26, Sears, Program Coordinator Angela Schlappie and DeLoe did a site visit at CARDV and painted rocks with their staff.

“It was really nice,” DeLoe said. “You can read an application and they can say, ‘Oh, we do this, this and this,’ but you can’t fully get that experience until you go meet them and talk with them, because usually they are a lot more passionate and they give you so much heart with their work.”

On Thursday, Aug. 10, Sears, Grants Coordinator Jesse Knight, DeLoe and Powley met Willamette Riverkeeper Executive Director Travis Williams and River Recreation & Stewardship Coordinator Annette Pearson at Michael’s Landing in Corvallis, where they ferried canoes across the Willamette River to look for and learn about freshwater mussels.

All of their work concluded with a lunch and check presentation for the nonprofits at the casino on Monday, Aug. 14. The Community Fund has now awarded $94,448,158 to nonprofits during the past 26 years.