They haven't solved world hunger - yet.
But a knot of Loyola Sacred Heart High School students who formed their own private foundation put the final touches on a school-year project last week, finalizing paperwork for distributing $20,000 to Missoula-area organizations.
Recipients will use the grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to help meet needs ranging from AIDS awareness to championship banners for Loyola's gymnasium.
Half a dozen holdovers from Larry Mansch's first-semester economics class met two weeks ago to screen grant applications. They divvied up the remainder of $25,500 raised last fall through gifts and successful grant applications.
The students came up with eight recipients in addition to the Poverello Center, which was granted the first check for $5,000 just before Christmas.
"You can't really fix everybody's demands, like you can't cure poverty. That's irrelevant," sophomore Mike Brown said. "But we can definitely make a dent if everybody tries."
A $5,000 check will go to Loyola's fundraising program, Building A Scholastic Heritage or BASH, for use in technology. Two other groups, First Way Pregnancy Support Center and Young Life Missoula, a Christian-based outreach group for teenagers, received $3,000 each.
Other recipients were the Montana Radio Reading Service ($2,400); Friends To Youth ($2,250); Partnership in Health Care, for AIDS awarenenss ($1,850); Missoula Mavericks baseball, for a batting cage ($1,500); and Loyola Sacred Heart Athletics, for the championship banners ($1,000).
The remaining $500 will be held as a nest egg to launch an ongoing giving program next school year, class mentor Karrie Montgomery said.
"We're in the process of talking about different options," said Montgomery, executive director of the Silver Foundation and Gallagher Foundation in Missoula. "One is starting a nonprofit and running it as a philanthropy club for Missoula, maybe going under the umbrella of the Celebrate Missoula Foundation."
The goal, she said, is to open it up to include other Missoula high schools.
Last week, as graduation bore down, the students met in the Loyola library with Mansch and Montgomery to finalize the paperwork, including the award and rejection letters.
The process was a different experience than learning economics from a textbook, junior Jessica Dauenhauer said.
"You don't get the full-on experience and you don't get to realize that it's actually happening," she said.
Choosing award winners and amounts was an eye-opening project. The students gathered one evening at Break Espresso on North Higgins Avenue and spent two hours discussing and debating 13 or 14 applications.
Many fell neatly into "yes" and "no" piles. The maybes were the hard ones, according to sophomore Erik Kappelman.
"Sometimes the grants weren't written that well, but you could really see that these people need this money and can do a lot for the community," Kappelman said. "But you couldn't give it to them because Š really, it was vague for what exactly the money was going to be used for, or it seemed like too much money."
The applications included grant criteria, such as it was. The students went with their gut instincts when decisionmaking time came. They're proud of the diversity of their recipients.
"From reading for the blind to helping the Mavs. That's kind of a big spectrum," Kappelman said. "One of my favorite things about it was we really got to help the community on so many different levels."
Montana Radio Reading Service recently lost United Way funding, "so we're searching high and low for new sources," said director Kate Cotnoir. The $2,400 from the Loyola students will be used to do some outreach across the state to contact groups that can lend support.
"Also we need to do a telephone survey of our listening base and update that information," she said.
Cotnoir's children go to Loyola, and though they aren't in the budding philanthropy club, Cotnoir is all for it and the lessons it teaches.
"I think it's the greatest way to learn, through experience, and I hope they continue," she said. "I'm proud of them."
"I think we were able to make a difference in the community," said junior Ashley Wegener. "I hope next year's class that gets together for this will be able to make even more of a difference."
"You see how much need there really is and (realize) it's not a small project. It's something that has to be done over a large amount of time," junior Ty Heaton said.
A goal of raising and giving away $500,000 has already been discussed.
Montgomery thinks it could eventually turn into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, and perhaps evolve into an endowment fund - "something lasting that we can actually leave as a legacy."
She intends to stick around and work with future student philanthropists. It's an important lesson that many people don't understand.
"There's business and there's government, and philanthropy is a whole other sector," Montgomery said. "It's a multibillion-dollar industry that nobody knows about."