LIGONIER — For Lexi Ortiz, giving back to the community was an outlet to help her through a rough patch in her life.
In middle school, her mom was diagnosed with cancer and her parents got divorced. During that time, she started getting involved with community organizations as a way to serve others.
That desire to serve has only blossomed in the years since.
Now, as the president of PULSE, a student-led philanthropic group through the Community Foundation of Noble County, the incoming East Noble High School senior said she grew from hardship into the involved, active person she is today.
She’s at the helm now for PULSE’s 25th year, as the student-led service group plans its silver anniversary.
“Doing service has kind of been like my outlet. And I can speak in front of people now,” she said.
Ortiz was busy Tuesday leading one of PULSE’s summer meetings. There, she and other students planned their monthly service projects and organized shifts for their members to work them.
Past service projects for the include ringing bells for the Salvation Army, throwing a dance for students with special needs, and hosting PULSE Prom, a party with senior citizens where students dance with and ask questions to the elders of their community.
The group also tries to give back to the community through funding. Each year, PULSE awards $1,000 grants to some of those who apply through the Community Foundation’s website.
Margarita White, program director of the community foundation, said the students are in complete control of how PULSE operates, including which service projects they do and their code of conduct.
The group is made up of members from all three Noble County school districts.
“They make all the rules,” White said.
The freedom to make decisions and evaluate their choices on their own makes PULSE a formative experience for the teenagers in the group, White said.
One current PULSE member would agree. Ben Jansen, a 17-year-old East Noble senior, said he believes being exposed to volunteering and philanthropy management while still in high school is only good for the future.
“It’s good that we’re starting young because we can work on it and constantly get better at it,” Jansen said.
That’s not just what Jansen thinks — Ashlee Guthrie, an alumna of PULSE who attended the Tuesday meeting — said she is living proof of what the service organization does.
“Kids can do insurmountably more than we believe they can,” Guthrie said. “We just have to set the right environment so they can do it.”
Guthrie went on from serving through PULSE in high school to become the Dekko Foundation’s manager of investment impact. Dekko is a major philanthropic organization in Noble County, so her work in giving continues even today.
“It helped me find my place in the world,” Guthrie said.
PULSE is funded by the Dekko Foundation through the community foundation. According to the Dekko Foundation’s 2017 annual report, it gave the community foundation $38,000 to fund organization and community involvement.
This kind of philanthropic giving and service is something PULSE member and West Noble High School senior Jackie White hopes her group can get other students to catch on to.
“Right now, it’s about getting younger kids excited about this,” Jackie White said.
To do so, she said PULSE is visiting elementary schools to volunteer with the younger kids — like when they made dog toys for a local animal shelter together.
“It’s always one of our favorite projects,” she said.
As for Ortiz, service through PULSE has fashioned her idea of the future, where she plans on attending IUPUI’s Lilly School of Philanthropy.
“I want to serve. That’s it,” Ortiz said. “I want to serve.”