Who We Are: spreading love and kindness through youth involvement

By David Peck

When Josh Scheffler started coaching middle school basketball a few years ago, following in his father Dave’s footsteps, one of the things he enjoyed the most about the experience was being able to make a difference in a student’s life.

Coaching Xs and Os was one thing, but he also found that he enjoyed talking with the players about things off the court, sometimes on the team bus ride home or after a practice.

Always a giving person, Scheffler started sponsoring a child in Columbia through Children International, a global non-profit humanitarian organization designed to help children break the cycle of poverty and malnutrition through sponsorship. A sponsor pays a dedicated amount each month that goes toward the child’s education, food, clothing or dental and medical care.

“You can write letters to the kid that you’re sponsoring, and I actually got to go meet her (Margenys) in Columbia,” he said. “We sent letters back and forth, and I got the idea when I was coaching that it would be fun to have the kids I coached get involved a little bit, too. The kids would write something at the bottom of a letter I was going to send, and they really enjoyed doing that.

“That led me to the idea of just how rewarding it can be to put others first and to help others. That was really the idea behind starting this -- how to get kids in the area to help out and be there for other kids, kind of the idea that making a better world starts with teaching the kids how amazing it can be to be generous and helpful to others.”

Who We Are was born.

Who We Are is a local non-profit organization through which kids work together to help other kids in need. As the description on the Who We Are Facebook page puts it, the organization “provides local youth with the tools and support they need for a happy, healthy and successful life.”

A 2011 Lovell High School graduate, Scheffler attended the University of Wyoming for a time, then returned home to pick up on a career with the National Park Service that began when he was hired as a summer seasonal worker. The son of Dave and Lori Scheffler of Lovell, he is now a full-time integrated resource technician for historic preservation and natural resources at the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

After returning to Lovell, Scheffler started coaching basketball at Lovell Middle School in 2014 and continued through the fall of 2020.

Scheffler said he started working on the idea of forming Who We Are in early 2018 and launched the group in August of that year after months of filing the necessary paperwork to become a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation. He said he waited to publicize the group until he figured out how to run the organization and initially started small, pooling the resources, about $300 or $400 from friends and family members, to help some kids at Christmastime.

He then publically announced the following spring that he had started Who We Are, posting the first information on social media and building a website. He changed the name, as well, from the initial title of Scheffler Project, noting, “I didn’t like the focus on Scheffler.”

So far, Scheffler said he has mostly advertised Who We Are via social media and has raised money through individual donations and the sale of coffee from around the world, which he roasts himself. He said he has sold coffee from countries like Zambia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Peru, Brazil and Columbia. Donations can also be made on the organization’s website, www.whoweare.charity.

There is also a child referral form on the website through which a person can refer a child from another family, or a family member can request help for his or her own child. He has reached out to local churches, as well, along with local schools.

Scheffler emphasized that it is not necessary to prove an income level or a need to refer a child in need, noting that someone who may not seem to have a need on the surface may have fallen on hard times, especially during the era
of COVID-19.

“We do investigate a little bit just ourselves to see where the money can be used most efficiently, but we don’t like to exclude someone just based off of income or status,” he said. “We had several different families that we helped that, previous to COVID-19, probably wouldn’t have needed the help, but we heard through friends or neighbors or whatever that they were struggling a little bit, and so we reached out.

“A lot of that at the beginning of COVID-19 was helping out with food, and we ended up coordinating our efforts a little bit with the food pantry (at the Methodist Church).”

Scheffler is the director of Who We Are, and his aunt Carol Fink is the assistant director. Also assisting as board members are Lori Scheffler and Ben Long, who he said “helps with the technical side of things.”

Student involvement

Who We Are also has a youth staff, a group of students hand selected that stand out through recommendations from other kids, teachers or Scheffler’s own experience as a coach for their attitude, kindness and more.

There are currently seven members of the youth staff: CJ Pickett, Chevy Jolley, Connie Hall, Keyanna Walker, Braxton Felkins, Danika Crumrine and Becca Nichols.

“I’m hoping to have a boy and a girl from each grade, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet,” he said. “What I’m trying to do with them is to, number one, get them thinking about others, so they kind of are our eyes in the school, as well, especially now that I’m not coaching. I’ve had a couple of them say, ‘I’ve noticed so and so’s shoes have holes in them’ in the middle of winter. They kind of look for those things.”

Who We Are has also worked unofficially with the Share A Stocking program at North Big Horn Hospital, selecting some stockings and purchasing toys for kids.

“In the future I hope to coordinate with (Share A Stocking coordinator) Janet Koritnik a little bit more and get maybe some of the most needy kids so that we can make sure that they get everything that they need,” Scheffler said.

Who We Are got rolling in 2019, with the youth staff meeting about once a month, though he said it was tricky to get all of the staff members to gather at the same time due to sports and activities. When COVID-19 hit, the in-person meetings stopped, and the staff relied on group texting to share ideas.

“I really want them to get involved with coming up with ideas themselves,” Scheffler said. “I want them to take the lead role of what the community or kids could use.”

During the most recent chat session, for instance, the youth staff came up with the idea of forming an Adopt a Grandparent program through which students could communicate with residents at the care center, visit them when COVID-19 protocols allow and form a relationship with the senior citizen.

“Then it’s kind of a win-win benefit for the senior citizens and the kids, as well,” Scheffler said.

Who We Are focuses on individual kids, Scheffler said, and isn’t in a position to tackle larger items like rent or utilities. He said the online form involves checking a box for needed items and clothing size, plus other areas of need. The donations are anonymous, and sometimes items are simply dropped off at the doorstep of a child’s home.

The organization has helped kids 83 times in five communities from Basin to Clark. Scheffler would like to expand the program into Rocky Mountain Middle/High School and form a youth staff there.

So far, Who We Are has mainly raised funds from individual donations and the coffee sales, and has received one company donation. The website has a PayPal option, along with credit card, cash and checks. Scheffler said he would like to expand into other methods like Venmo that are easy to use.

“We don’t keep any of the money,” he emphasized. “There’s no income that goes to me or anyone else on the board, even to legal fees. That’s all paid out of pocket by the board members.  That way every cent donated will go to a kid.”

 Since August of 2018, he said, Who We Are has raised $11,678 and has spent about $10,000 on local kids.

Who We Are is not affiliated with any specific religion, Scheffler said, though he said he wants to “get rolling” with every denomination in north Big Horn County. He said he was able to give a presentation at The Point youth house about sponsoring a child through Children International and coordinate a group of kids to pool their money to sponsor a child. He said a group of students has been sponsoring a child in Columbia since mid-2019, and he hopes to take the group of local kids to Columbia to see their work in action and meet the child they’ve been sponsoring and communicating with.

Mental health

Eventually, Scheffler would like to see Who We Are branch out into helping students suffering from the anxiety, depression and mental health issues that he saw in the youth when he was coaching and that he struggled with when he was growing up. He noted that the logo of Who We Are is a sailboat with bright colors representing breaking away from the darkness of anxiety and depression. The boat itself represents not fighting the emotions and depression like a sailboat would do if the operator fights the wind that’s pushing it.

He said kids would often approach him away from coaching and tell him about the different mental health problems they were facing.

“I think they did that because of the way I would express to them that I’m someone that they can talk to and that I’m not going to judge them or anything like that,” he said. “That is what I want Who We Are to eventually go after, but it is quite the monster to tackle. I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s a very scary frontier.

“That’s been, from the very beginning, where I want it to go. Our slogan is Give Hope, Share Love, Build Friendships.”

It’s all an effort to spread love and kindness, Scheffler said.