Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Project Change changing itself

Organization has an office, new board members and a renewed vision

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A decade after it began with the mission of offering safe and structured activities for area teens, Project Change has a new office, new board members and a new promise to offer even more opportunities for youths.

The organization in October received a $260,000 Joshua M. Freeman Tribute Grant from the Olney-based Carl M. Freeman Foundation, allowing it to broaden its vision of serving as a national model for youth-empowered community improvement, leaders say.

‘‘It’s ambitious, it’s exciting and it’s doable,” Project Change Executive Director Robyn Holstein-Glass said.

After more than a decade of meeting around kitchen tables, the organization finally has a place to call home, having recently leased an 800-square-foot office at 17904 Georgia Ave.

‘‘Project Change is poised and determined to fulfill its newly expanded organizational mission, and with keys to a new office, there will be no stopping this determined group of greater Olney youth and adults who firmly believe that positive youth development holds the key to a healthy community,” board chairwoman Jimena Ryan said.

Although new to Project Change, Ryan is not new to Olney youths. She is best known locally for championing the effort to bring a skateboard park to Olney.

One of Project Change’s original members, Amanda Woodfield, has returned to Olney after graduating from James Madison University and receiving a Master of Public Health in administration and policy from the University of Minnesota in 2007.

Now completing a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, she is serving as a board member of the organization she and other Sherwood High School students helped found.

Chris Toppe of Olney, a senior manager of Nonprofit Strategy and Consulting at Raffa, P.C., a professional services firm, has also joined the board. He was formerly vice president for research and evaluation at the Points of Light Foundation.

He hopes to help Project Change become a model program for other organizations in Montgomery County, the state and the country.

The new office and new board members have inspired Project Change leaders to improve opportunities for youths to become engaged and satisfied members of their community.

‘‘The fact is our vision has grown significantly, and in a way, Project Change has finally determined what it wants to be when it grows up,” Ryan said.

While a bricks-and-mortar teen center in Olney is still part of the organization’s plan, it is only one facet of a much larger dream.

By establishing the nonprofit organization ‘‘as a national model for youth-empowered community improvement, Project Change will be able to show others how to build better communities for, by and through its youth,” Holstein-Glass said.

In particular, Project Change is committed to improving Student Service Learning outreach, education and experiences in the community, leaders said.

But one final piece remains unfulfilled: Project Change needs more volunteers to serve on committees, including an advisory committee with youth and adult representatives from all five high schools in the area — Sherwood, James Hubert Blake, Col. Zadok Magruder, Sandy Spring Friends and Our Lady of Good Counsel.

‘‘This is a unique opportunity to build a better community for ourselves, our families, our children and our grandchildren,” Ryan said.