Do you remember the questions asked of you on your Grade 12 English exam? If you do, do you remember feeling like you made a difference?

Last night, twelve Grade 12 students from the Chatham Christian High School, made a presentation to a panel of judges and to the general public about some of the incredible work being done in our community by nonprofit organizations funded by the local United Way.

Amy Bergsma, a teacher at Chatham Christian High School, partnered with United Way of Chatham-Kent and the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network to create a unique opportunity for her students to work on an hands-on experiential learning project in place of their final exam – a project that would raise awareness of charitable programs in Chatham-Kent, encourage volunteerism in youth, allow students to meet Ontario curriculum requirements in a meaningful and purposeful way, all while encouraging a pride in, and love for, Chatham-Kent.

The students each selected a charity to research and their assignment was to publicly present and advocate for funding for each of these charities to a panel of community volunteers. At the end of the presentations, each of the students was assigned a grade and the charity represented by the presenter with the most votes was slated to receive a $5,000 donation – approved by the United Way Board of Directors from their Community Impact Grants.

The winning charity was the Autism Transitional Classroom with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, based on the presentation that was made by student Patrick Hindmarsh.

“I designed this project to not only matter for Grade 12 marks, but to alter the course of their lives”, said Bergsma. “Imagine the impact of these students having a deeper sense of community, greater capacity for empathy, and the empowerment to know how to step outside of their comfort zones and make change happen.”

The Autism Transitional Classroom is planning on using these funds to purchase enhanced learning materials for their classroom.