Change for a Change program expanded

JFC Jessie

By NewsLine Staff
mail@floridanewsline.com

Change for a Change, started by youth-led service group Small Steps, collects pocket change for charities. It has been expanded to help fund not only the original beneficiary, the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach’s outreach music therapy program, but also Special Olympics. The outreach music therapy program serves special needs students in Ocean Palms, PVPV Rawlings and Valley Ridge Academy.

The Small Steps group learned last fall when donating the $275 they raised at Ocean Palms’ Family Fun Night that the music therapy program costs about $60,000 per year. This inspired the group to expand their fundraising efforts.

In January, Small Steps’ project leader, a high school freshman, appeared before the boards of Ponte Vedra Soccer, Ponte Vedra Girls Softball and the Jacksonville Futbol Club to request that each partner with the group and allow the youth to run a spring fundraiser collecting pocket change from players to benefit local special needs students and athletes. Each board unanimously approved the partnership with Small Steps and the fundraiser.

The initial goal was to raise $1,000, but this number was surpassed in the first few weeks and the final tally was more than $16,000 raised. Small Steps also helped raise awareness of the fundraising needed to continue the music outreach therapy program.

Small Steps’ mission is to demonstrate independent youth leadership works. Each member is 11 to 15 years old and a student at Ponte Vedra High School, Landrum Middle School or Ocean Palms. They choose the projects to work on during the year depending on the students’ availability. Small Steps was started to allow students who have a service heart and want to volunteer, but are busy with academics, sports, band and other extracurriculars, do so on their own flexible schedule. The group also uses the projects as examples to mentor younger students on how easy volunteering is if a passion is followed.

The group is small, but has more than 2,000 hours volunteering — just in their schools.  Although every member of the group contributes in different ways, members of the group have been honored to receive a total of four Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year awards.

Photo courtesy Julie Durden

Seven-year-old Jessie Durden with her pocket change collector