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Students launch foundation to help their peers fill budget gaps

As a student at Staten Island Technical High School, Jeremy Meyers couldn’t always get the gear he needed as a member of the fencing team. The Model United Nations team he had helped start was scrambling for funds to attend conferences. And he saw that computer programming classes were cut alongside the school’s budget.

Instead of making do with less, Meyers, now a freshman at Columbia University, teamed up with classmates to develop a strategy to fill the budget gaps.

The result is GrayMatter, a foundation that aims to make it easier for students to raise money for their schools.

Modeled off of DonorsChoose, the website that many teachers use to solicit donations for school supplies, GrayMatter allows students in city schools to list projects in need of support, then collects and disburses funds on the students’ behalf after verifying with school officials that the need is real.

Right now, Jim, a senior at a Brooklyn school, still needs $282.72 to allow two members of a community service group to attend a leadership conference. The final bill comes to $612.72, and 17 people have already pitched in $330.

Five other projects have already been fully funded. Last year, donors used the site to help Tausif in Staten Island buy music equipment and Lichi in Manhattan to pay for books about college scholarships. In March, Afshan Sarwar asked for $420 to buy a class set of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” then posted pictures of Leon M. Goldstein High School of Sciences students reading the book after the project was funded.

Meyers said the foundation, which counts DonorsChoose founder Charles Best among its board members, had struggled to raise awareness about the new service. After efforts to work with administrators at different schools fell short, the group is turning its attention social media, launching a GrayMatter Foundation Facebook group that has nearly 800 fans.

Mayers and his co-founder, Staten Island Tech classmate Shah Ullah, put together a steering committee of students who spent the summer of 2011 raising funds and getting the word out. In September, GrayMatter became a 501c3 non-profit organization, meaning that donations to it are now tax-deductible.

So far, according to information posted on GrayMatter’s website, the group has spent more than $3,200 on its own expenses and raised about $1,100 for students’ projects. That balance should shift dramatically as more students list projects on the site, Meyers said.

In the future, Meyers said he hopes to expand nationally, but for now, projects are limited to the country’s largest school district.

“We’re staying in NYC right now because we’re here and also there’s a great need,” he said. “There are a lot of forward-thinking students that need materials that their schools don’t necessarily provide.”

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