I recently did a story, touting the efforts of one of our major businesses, JC Penney, which focused on the local employees there giving back to the community.
The store employees and I were all under the impression that funds raised through the company's Afterschool Round-up program benefit youngsters in the Lower Yakima Valley through 4-H programs. After all, JC Penney corporate said money is donated to 4-H programs in the county.
I found out the money is actually given to the Yakima 4-H Council, which holds the money in an account assigned a 501c3 number.
It all started with a discussion regarding my earlier story. I was talking with someone from the Lower Valley 4-H Council and it was said to me the local group doesn't see any funding.
Curious, I ventured to find out what happens to the funds our local JC Penney store employees and customers so generously donate to the JC Penney program. I guessed the employees and store manager, as well as the corporate office would be interested in knowing if the money was actually being used for its intended purpose.
I set about contacting the Yakima 4-H Council and JC Penney corporate.
I was a little dismayed to have some difficulty finding an actual person with whom I could speak to at JC Penney, but eventually was led to the right contacts.
It was easier to contact the Yakima 4-H Council, but I was frustrated with the conversation.
I asked what I believed to be a simple question, "If our local council doesn't see the money, how is it used?"
I was given what seemed to be "lip service."
After what felt like a lot of prodding the person I contacted told me a 4-H gardening project "within a 20-mile radius from the door (of JC Penney in Sunnyside) received some funding."
I thought this was rather vague and prodded further, but was not given an exact 4-H club name or where they were located.
Again, I was rather frustrated.
To my surprise, the contact volunteered to email me a story about the project. She wrote the story specifically to give me an idea of how the funds were utilized.
The story told me it was the Outlook Elementary School garden program, overseen by Yakima County Master Gardener Doris Sonstelie, who received funding under the 4-H umbrella. A grant was awarded to the garden program, but the program is not affiliated with 4-H.
Also shared was information regarding a Lower Valley 4-H club whose members return from Texas each year with their families for agricultural employment. Apparently the funding helps this group complete craft projects that are exhibited at local fairs.
Despite the secrecy I encountered in trying to learn how these funds were spent, I am sure the customers and employees at JC Penney are happy to know that there are some local youngsters who have benefited from the efforts of JC Penney.