By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

Educational news and activities, and local kids and their achievements.

• School Notes and submission info, B2

It was the nearly empty shelves that really convinced Vanessa Smith, 14 and Sarah VanHorn, 15.

“All there was was this small little bag of cat food,” said Vanessa. “It was sad. I felt like ‘Wow, people don’t have enough food to give their animals. We should help them.’”

Monday morning, Vanessa and Sarah, two students in the Teens in Action program through Camp Fire Central Oregon, set up a table in front of Food 4 Less in Bend, collecting pet food donations to benefit the Central Oregon Humane Society.

Over the last month, the two students have met with program facilitator and AmeriCorps volunteer Courtney Nolta three days a week todevise, design, and implement a community service project of their own choosing through the Teens in Action program.

The students will spend the entire week fundraising at grocery stores in Bend as the culmination of their project.

The Teens in Action program is a nationwide program through Camp Fire, but it hasn’t been implemented in Central Oregon for the past 10 years.

Camp Fire recently brought the program back to their summer programming to coincide with the local AmeriCorps VISTA program.

“We’re really excited to bring the program back,” said Kecia Kubota, Camp Fire Central Oregon’s executive director.

“We think it’s really timely. It’s important getting youth actively engaged in giving back to the community.”

The program is specifically aimed at middle school students transitioning to high school.

“The idea is that this is a vulnerable time for these kids,” Nolta said. “Studies show that kids who are more successful during the transition from middle school to high school are more likely to succeed and graduate. This (Teens in Action) helps them with the transition by boosting their confidence.”

Earlier in the summer, about 15 students in the Crook County Teens in Action program organized and implemented a chili feed fundraising event to benefit a local homeless shelter.

Although only two students participated in the Deschutes County version, their desire to make an impact wasn’t any less significant. Vanessa and Sarah researched and visited various organizations, looking for a nonprofit to benefit. After visiting the Humane Society last month, the two decided their community service project would benefit the society’s Pet Food Assistance program.

The organization provides three tons of pet food a year to pet owners who’ve fallen on hard times and are unable to feed their animals.

“It’s a difficult program to sustain because the need is so huge,” said Lynne Ouchida, the society’s community outreach manager. “I think the students chose to help this program because they couldn’t imagine losing their own pets and could identify with it.”

Vanessa said she joined the program for an age-old reason: Her mom made her. But as she learned more about the Humane Society, she said she genuinely wanted to help, inspired by her love for animals. She said the most difficult part of the project was cold-calling local stores, asking if they’d allow the girls to set up a fundraising table in front.

“It was definitely kind of intimidating,” Vanessa said. “Some places were actually kind of rude when I talked to them.”

Sarah agreed.

“The hardest part was just making the calls and figuring out what to say,” Sarah said.

Nolta said this provided the students with a good experience, showing them what it’s like to fundraise in the real world.

The first store to allow the students to fundraise was Food 4 Less in north Bend, where students spent five hours out front talking to customers about the Humane Society’s need and collecting donations. By noon Monday, they had collected about 320 pounds of dog food and about $60 in donations.

The students have a goal of collecting at least 800 pounds of food this week and will be at the south Albertsons from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, and at PetSmart from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

But no matter if the students reach their goal, the program has been successful this summer. Teens in Action will be offered at Cascade Middle School and Pilot Butte Middle School this school year, Kubota said.

“I have to think it’ll help,” Sarah said. “Helping people keep their pets is a good thing.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354,