Before this group of philanthropists gave away $3,500 in scholarships, they were out on the grass, shirttails flying, neck- and bowties askew, working up a little sweat and messing up fresh haircuts. They were playing “Catch 500” with a tennis ball.
Less than an hour later, they were debuting as the youngest group of scholarship donors at the honors convocation for Laguna Beach High School seniors last Friday night. With a record 117 donors, $353,110 to hand to 131 seniors, the scholarship awards offered the most money ever given to seniors with financial or extraordinary needs.
Officially known as Ten Boys Who Care, the boys had some hard-earned cash to give away themselves.
The Thurston Middle School 7th-graders got up on stage at the Artists’ Theater in black slacks, white shirts and recently righted neckties to announce their chosen guy and girl seniors. They were an instant hit and a simultaneous “ahh” could be heard from the seated sea of mainly moms and dads.
The mostly 13-year-olds bestowed money on three seniors sitting among rows of maroon and white caps and gowns. Their recipients were chosen for writing the funniest essay, according to 7th-grade-boy standards, about their most embarrassing moment in sports and what they learned from it.
One of the winning essays, by Tyler Metez, used the word “gonads,” a sure ringer for outrageous laughter in that age-group of judges. Metez wrote about kicking a soccer ball at an opponent because he was angry his team was losing. The ball bounced back and hit him where it hurts.
Sam Reynolds, the group’s “outgoing” president, presented the check to Metez, a shy guy who earned $1,000 for that unintentional yet winning word choice.
“I was trying to use a word that would be discreet. I didn’t really know what to say,” said Metez, who also served as the boys’ group leader and helped organize various fundraisers. That position was not an advantage; Metez got the smaller of the awards. All three of the convincing essays were chosen anonymously.
“We were all kind of laughing because it was a time before we all kind of matured,” said one of the 10 boys, Gustav (Gus) Morck, now 13. “We saw the word ‘gonads’ in it. That determined it, but not entirely.” Morck says the group is more mature now.
The lesson Metez learned, as he wrote in his essay, was that bad sportsmanship doesn’t pay.
The boys read 23 essays total and awarded Grant Wilhelm and Jordan Hartman another $1,250 each.
“We know it’s super hard making money in college so we want to help them get a little bit of a head start, even though it will probably just pay for like three books,” said Ayrton Garcia, 12.
At first, the boys thought the scholarship idea was “dorky,” and wanted to give the group a derogatory name, said Carrie Reynolds, Sam’s mom who started the group. The guys got inspired about caring when Masson Lebby contributed his share of the proceeds from a garage and bake sale in Big Bear, where his family was vacationing last August.
After six months of raising more money from washing cars, painting house numbers on curbs for $20 a pop and neighborhood bake sales, the group ended with a bang at a garage sale replete with Christmas décor donated from Madison Square Garden and Café that raised $1,000.
Next year, the boys want to double the prize by adding more fundraising events, said Garcia, who contributed $200 he earned from playing guitar on a corner during Hospitality Night. Garcia said he’d next like to raise money by doing push-ups and bench presses.
What the 10 boys came to care about, they admitted during an impromptu and fully attended meeting at Gina’s Pizza in north Laguna, are students struggling to earn money for extra college expenses, something some of them foresee in their futures.
“There’s all those students who tried their hardest to get the best grades they can in their high school and try and get a scholarship,” said Morck, the first to arrive at the table, “but most of them can’t really afford to go to college so they need a scholarship. We care about students’ needs, and what they cannot get is what we’re going to try and get for them.”
The boys now know about that firsthand. “It’s not that easy earning over $1,000,” Morck added, a string of errant cheese gracing his lower lip, a piece of tomato skin stuck in his braces. The boys anticipate that the scholarship drive for high school seniors will earn them community service credit as well as kudos from college entrance boards.
What did they learn from the experience? “We learned how hard it is for people to read essays for a long moment of time,” said Sam Kluver, very seriously, “how to do stuff that normally adults would do and why kids don’t do these kinds of things. We’re going to do it until we’re seniors. We’re going to do it forever.”
And the guys’ other buddies were impressed. “I saw many of my friends who thought it was cool,” said Enzo Sadler. “I thought, ‘Well, geez, you’re happy, I’m happy, other people are happy. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Carrie Reynolds said she was inspired by the Clark Family Scholarship – Caring, Loving Acts of Random Kindness – that’s funded by loose change dropped in a bucket by kids coming through the Clark’s house. She said she’s gotten calls and emails after the convocation from others wanting to add to the double-digit membership and from girls asking about starting a sister group.
“I love helping people,” said Noah Linder, 13. “I have passion for helping other people to help them go to college.”