Citizenship education club receives $50,000 grant

From a mere idea at a late night dinner in Seattle to a classified 501(c)(3) non-profit with 60 student teachers, Mission: Citizen has exceeded expectations.

Six Lincoln Constitution Team alumni wanted to continue their experience and use their knowledge to make a difference. In 2009, students Naomi Dann, Callie King-Guffey, Louis Wheatley, Eugene Chung, Emily Segura and Max Dickinson came up with an organization to help green-card holders pass the test to citizenship.

In Mission: Citizen, high school students who have an in-depth knowledge about the Constitution and American government can teach green-card holders and other legal residents the information needed to pass the citizenship test. Many of the teachers are Lincoln Constitution team alumni, but other students have shown interest.

The class is eight weeks long and covers everything needed to know to successfully pass the test, as well as what it means to be a citizen.

Mission: Citizen has been more successful than they could have ever imagined. The program has helped 300-400 immigrants pass the citizenship test. They have about 25-30 dedicated students per term; fall, winter and spring, and about 60 volunteer students rotating in and out.

In fact, Mission: Citizen is so successful, they recently received a $50,000 grant from State Farm’s Youth Advisory Board. This is the biggest grant to ever be given to a Lincoln High School student run club. Mission: Citizen will use this money to purchase iPads, advertising on TriMet buses, and enlarge their student student scholarship fund. “We cannot wait to see how these improvements will help us expand our reach and create a better experience for our learners,” says senior Danny Cohen, the Executive Director of Mission: Citizen.

According to Steven Griffith, the President of the Board of Trustees, all the money that Mission: Citizen receives goes towards marketing and scholarships for the students. This means that none of the teachers are paid. They participate because of their interest in the American Constitution and their drive to be engaged citizens, he said.

From its humble beginnings to now, the road hasn’t always been smooth. In fact, when the program first began, there about three to four students taking the course, and it was held at Mercy Corps. From then on, the board of Mission: Citizen has had its ups and downs while finding the prime location of the class and getting money for more advertising. Most of their growth has come from trial and error, until they found the right method, Griffith said.

All the work toward Mission: Citizen has been from the hands of students, Griffith says, “it was totally student conceived, student organized, [and] student energy.” The only reason for the adults on the board, like Griffith, was for formalities when becoming a classified 5013c non-profit organization and to have some adult guidance and supervision. The rest has been year after year of Lincoln students putting in their time to keep the program running.

Mission: Citizen also has plan for the future and how they want to grow, especially with the money from their grant. Senior Sheila Panyam, the current Director of Education, is hoping to expand outreach and create more incentives towards making Mission: Citizen more accessible to a diverse population. She says, “I know that the students who run Mission: Citizen are passionate not only about the material, but about making a difference, and I know that the future of the organization is excellent hands.”