Puyallup: News

Rogers High student starts nonprofit based on community development

In the midst of filling out college applications, pondering college choices and preparing for life after high school, Rogers High School senior Conor Collins is just like the typical graduating senior. On top of his strenuous course load, a near 4.0 GPA, serving as a captain on the swim team and being an avid cyclist, the 17-year-old recently started his own nonprofit foundation, which includes a scholarship program.

“We have so many wonderful students in our district,” said Dr. Tim Yeomans, Puyallup School District superintendent. “Conor takes it to a whole new level. I am so impressed with him.”

The steps toward creating the organization, Finer Future, began in January 2014, when Collins and five other students came together to find another way for students to help each other. Their idea was to have a majority of the leadership of their organization come from students. Collins, Jaskaran Singh, Joseph Wulfekuhle, Kalei Gordon, Mark Burch, and Joonyong Lee, also students at Rogers, got to work establishing their organization.

“I wanted to a way for students to help each other, and not through the ASB program but through a private business sort of way,” Collins said.

Once Collins and his crew got the idea nailed down, he approached Rogers principal Jason Smith with his idea. Smith encouraged Collins to contact Yeomans, who then referred the student to the school district’s law firm, Patterson Buchanan, to make sure he had everything lined up for his nonprofit.

“I made an approach on his behalf,” Yeomans said. “Huge kudos to them (Patterson Buchanan) for doing this pro bono.”

“That was really cool because then they looked over our articles of incorporation bylaws, which you need to have in order to have for the state,” Collins said. “You take those and put them into the 1023 form, which is the actual IRS nonprofit form for tax deductible donations.”

Once Collins filled out the necessary paperwork for the IRS — nearly all on his own — his organization ultimately become incorporated as a nonprofit in May of 2014.

Shortly after, the organization picked its first scholarship recipient, a senior from Orting High School.

“Before the school year ended, I wanted to show that a student is capable of creating their own nonprofit and having it go to work,” Collins said. “I designed my own scholarship and put it out there.”

Once the organization received a number of qualified applicants, an independent selection committee of adults in the community went through each application and graded it accordingly.

“We just went with the one that had the highest score,” he said.

Outside of building up his own nonprofit, Collins has maintained a busy schedule with ease, and has his eye set on attending U.C. Berkeley next fall. He plans to major in law or biology, but wants to wait to see which he feels would impact society in the best way.

“Whether I went into law or into medical, I still want to see what undergraduate life has to offer,” he said.

When asked how he manages his time between his busy academic and extracurricular calendar, Collins says it is simple.

“I don’t really think there’s a secret to it,” he said. “ I would say it’s having a constant objective. If you get into a foggy area, you need to tell yourself what the ultimate goal is. You just keep that in sight, and everything else balances up to that point.”

Collins is waiting for an answer from all of the universities he applied do, but says once he gets his plans for next year nailed down, he plans to transfer the organization to a student to take over when he’s gone. As for his ideal scholarship recipient, he expects them to have positive leadership experiences and the ability to get others actively engaged in making a difference.

“How they do that, I want to base it off of an idea of community development,” he said. “I want to see how crazy and abstract their ideas can get, because I really think that is the solution to fixing some of the problems in our community. They’re going to have to address the problem and how they are going to fix it. The person who ends up with the best example of that will most likely be the recipient of the scholarships.”

From starting a scholarship to maintaining his high GPA to seeking mentorship through cycling, most would say the sky is the limit.

“He has a heart made for helping others … he had a vision to start a nonprofit foundation for education and saw it through,” Rogers swim coach Stefani Fersch said. “His foundation has already given one $500 scholarship and is set to award another real soon. He set goals and stuck with them … and was very humble once he reached his goal.”

Collins is also honest and forthright in his actions, and is well-spoken and a good listener, she added.

“Conor gives me hope for the future,” Fersch said. “In a time when all we hear about are the selfish, self-centered youth of today, Conor shines … he is an outstanding student, athlete and person. I expect great things from Conor Collins.”

For more information on Finer Future, visit www.finerfuture.org.