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Class Projects

2023 – Stomp out the Stigma

The West Des Moines Leadership Academy Class of 2022-2023 chose to devote their cause to supplying mental health resources for the students and staff within the West Des Moines Community Schools. Sadly, mental illness continues to be a growing epidemic. There is an increasing trend of children suffering from anxiety, depression, mood swings, eating disorders, and suicide. It was their mission to give more kids the help they need. The “School to Thrive” program will expand mental health training for staff and provide additional resources for more than 4,500 students in grades 7-12. With this partnership, they will be able to enhance school systems to promote positive school mental health. Their class project aimed to provide the resources and tools students need to conquer even the toughest of challenges and help create brighter futures for the students of West Des Moines. The class raised over $48,000 for this purpose. 

2022 – World of Difference

The Class of 2022 set out to raise awareness and ensure that the children of resettled refugees and immigrants in the West Des Moines community have the support and resources they need to focus on their education and secure their futures in West Des Moines are bright and full of opportunities.

The Class partnered with the West Des Moines Community School Foundation to create the World of Difference scholarship fund to aid refugee and immigrant students in their education journey. To build awareness and raise funds for this scholarship, the Class organized and hosted a trivia night at The Hall with live music and raffle prizes. Attendees raised nearly $3,000 towards the Class’s ambitious goal of $50,000. Other donations came in from the business community and private contributions.

From donations to raffle prizes, time shared and volunteered, the contributions to the Foundation by way of the World of Difference helped raise nearly $57,000 (a Leadership Academy record). These funds are available to directly support refugee and immigrant students and celebrate their presence in the West Des Moines schools and community.

2020 – Food Bank of Iowa

The West Des Moines Leadership Academy class of 2019-2020
chose to partner with the Food Bank of Iowa as they continue to stock area pantries and organizations with resources that serve our local
community. Their current outreach into our West Des Moines community was an easy choice to align with. Their backpack programs and food pantry programs within the WDM CSD spoke to our hearts and we grasped that impact and wanted to expand it. Our original goal was to raise financial capital of $70,000 via corporate sponsorship with an event of games, drinks, and live music. This money would support the Food Bank’s effort of ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors have access to the nutrition and resources they need. Most of the event was planned out but was then cancelled due to the pandemic of COVID-19. Though it threw a wrench in the class’ plans, it did not deter their resolve. They changed gears and raised capital via remote online and phone call efforts. In the end, they raised a little more than $11,000. This was a great success considering the fact that the class did this without any live contact with the people and corporations that donated. 

2019 – Dueling for Humanity 

The West Des Moines Leadership class of 2018-2019 project was Dueling for Humanity with the goal of raising $50,000 for West Des Moines Human Services. West Des Moines is one of the few communities with a Human Service Department offering a variety of services to their residents. They have been providing assistance to low-income, elderly and disabled residents since 1979. These services include a food pantry, clothing closet, ELL classes, discounted pool passes, maintenance services for the elderly, rental/mortgage assistance, free medical clinic, discounted pool passes and more. They held their event at Blue Moon Piano in West Glen and had live music by Tony Bohnenkamp. Their class was able to put together a nice assortment of raffle baskets to add to our fundraising effort. It was a great success with a total of $52,368 raised! 

2018 – Wildwood Hills Ranch 

The West Des Moines Leadership class of 2017-2018 project was in partnership with Wildwood Hills Ranch. The goal was to raise $50,000 to fund Wildwood Hills ranch in their commitment to send 20 students from West Des Moines schools to summer camp and for nine summers to follow. Wildwood Hills Ranch provides at risk youth a safe space where children are protected, heard, and can find a sense of belonging. The WDMLA class worked with the West Des Moines community schools to build a partnership between the schools and Wildwood to identify students that would benefit from attending the camp each summer. The “Wild About the Child” Shindig is a yearly fundraiser that Wildwood Hills Ranch has. The WDMLA partnered with Wildwood for the event to raise funds for WDM students by selling sponsorships and raising donations. The class also did various other things to promote and raise funds such as creating a promotion video and setting up a donation tracker on the Chamber website. Both parties were thrilled when they exceeded their goal.

2017 – Spring Into Safety

West Des Moines Leadership Academy Class 2016/2017 hosted a bike safety event aimed at kids ages 5-11 at Hillside Elementary in West Des Moines. The main draw of our event was giving away bicycle helmets for free to young children, while certified bike safety experts from Blank Children’s Hospital properly fit the helmets. We distributed over 200 helmets the day of the event and the remaining helmets were distributed to various organizations in the West Des Moines community to be handed out at a later date.

2014 – Class Project #1: Booster Pak Fighters

More than 30% of students in the West Des Moines Community School district are food insecure – meaning that they don’t have a steady supply of food during a typical week. Booster Pak in West Des Moines helps alleviate that deficit by sending packs of food home with children on weekends. Booster Pak asked for the West Des Moines Leadership Academy’s help in putting on an annual fundraiser.

The Leadership Academy Food Fighters team took on this challenge by putting together an overall marketing plan for the organization and then recommending fundraising techniques to provide additional income for the organization. In addition to donating more than $1,500 as a class, WDMLA also raised close to $10,000 for the organization by calling on area companies and some members of the continue to help by joining the Booster Pak board.

2014 – Class Project #2: Team G.I.V.E

Team G.I.V.E is working with the West Des Moines Human Services in order to create drop boxes at various locations throughout West Des Moines for items that are in need, particularly personal items, which are in the heaviest demand . During this session, Team G.I.V.E met with leaders of WDM Human Services in order to share their vision and discuss various opportunities where they can assist. The great news is, there was a positive response and they will be able to continue moving forward with their project as planned.
We are making great strides as we continue to report our progress each and every month. As we move forward, what are now ideas and discussions will turn into ongoing successes that will benefit those in need.

2013 – Class Project #1: Team One Kid

Team One Kid worked with Melanie Menken of BoosterPak, to assist with marketing her non-profit organization. While discussions the organizations ongoing needs, they are in need to establish a donor list to continue the addition of private funding for this organization. 
Team One Kid ended up planning an After Hours event in conjunction with the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce to promote BoosterPak and the importance of this organization. The event was highly attended. After it all Team One Kid helped BoosterPak establish and online donor program that they still use to this day.

2013 –  Class Project #2: Team G.I.V.E

Team G.I.V.E is working with the West Des Moines Human Services in order to create drop boxes at various locations throughout West Des Moines for items that are in need, particularly personal items, which are in the heaviest demand . During this session, Team G.I.V.E met with leaders of WDM Human Services in order to share their vision and discuss various opportunities where they can assist. The great news is, there was a positive response and they will be able to continue moving forward with their project as planned.
We are making great strides as we continue to report our progress each and every month. As we move forward, what are now ideas and discussions will turn into ongoing successes that will benefit those in need.

2012 – Meals from the Heartland

Drawing inspiration from popular television cooking competitions, Morsel Combat featured a cast of local chefs battling head-to-head in a challenge to create sumptuous, health-conscious entrées. Guests of this unique food event had the opportunity to savor small-plate versions of each chef’s creation as they mingled and visited each “tasting station” in Embassy Suites’ Grand Ballroom. Attendees were also invited to meet the chefs and vote for their favorite dish in the “Peoples’ Choice” competition as a panel of celebrity judges selects the winner of the “Top Chef” award. The panel included Lt Governor Kim Reynolds, Jessica Dunker, President of the Iowa Restaurant Association, local chef and businessman, George Formaro, and Jerry Armstrong, Chairman of Meals from the Heartland. Live entertainment was provided by Des Moines band The Snacks.

This successful event raised $50,000 through sponsorships and ticket sales for Meals from the Heartland, which filled a full semi-truck load of packaged meals (250,000 meals).

The West Des Moines Leadership Academy class of 2012 was proud to sponsor this event and continues to raise money to feed the starving with Morsel Combat events throughout Iowa. Success in 2012 was possible with support from dedicated class members who met complicated problems with creative solutions and through partnerships with Meals from the Heartland, the Healthiest State Initiative, and the Iowa Restaurant Association.

2011 – Booster Pak Bash

The Class of 2011 conducted several surveys of class members to narrow our direction and choose a project based on that consensus. By late November/early December the class had chosen a WDM-specific project directed at helping kids. It was important to the class that our effort would not only build awareness for a particular cause but extend the relevance of what we did into future years, potentially developing into an annual event.

After evaluating different alternatives we settled on Booster Pak, a division of the West Des Moines Community Schools Foundation that provides meals for hungry children on the weekends and during school breaks. Volunteer-driven, Booster Pak’s mission is to help at-risk students in the WDM Community Schools reach their fullest potential by reducing childhood hunger and promoting health and wellness. The program provides nutritious, kid-friendly food to at-risk elementary students and personal care and baby items for at-risk teens.

A class steering committee was formed to establish a course of action, evaluate options, develop an operational plan, and report out and get the class organized. Because we were well into the year, we agreed to develop a fund raising/awareness event to take place after our last class and before graduation in June. We decided that leveraging an existing event would also improve the scale of our work and subsequently awareness and potential donations.


The Des Moines Menace home opener was set for May 14 and we decided to hold the Booster Pak Bash, a family-friendly outdoor barbeque, in conjunction with that game. Committees were formed, chairs were named, and all class members were assigned various responsibilities required to get the project operational. Three class members took on the role of executive committee, setting meetings, agendas and timelines, meeting with external stakeholders, keeping everyone on task, and providing overall coordination.
As we learned more about our cause and gained greater understanding of the complexity of the project it became clear Booster Pak needed a more robust form of communication and marketing, as well as a tool to facilitate the event. Additionally, we wanted to provide a long-term benefit to Booster Pak beyond the one-time contribution from the Bash. Capitalizing on the skills of a subject-matter expert in the class, we initiated a complete makeover of their web site and a robust web platform with CRM capabilities to enable better tracking of donors, online donation, and overall stronger marketing of the message and cause.

While the weather was not cooperative, by all other measures the Booster Pak Bash was a huge success. Event highlights included entertainment, games, Mercy EMS ambulances, a WDM Fire truck, animals from Blank Park Zoo, donations for a Katelyn Epperly autograph session and personal photo, Des Moines Menace player autographs and mascot appearance, a silent auction, and a first-class barbeque served up by a Hy-Vee chef/class member and other class volunteers that resulted in more than $16,000 donated to Booster Pak. This donation was equivalent to over 3000 Booster Pak backpacks and meals.

Lessons Learned:

  • Many hands make light work to make a real difference in the World – witness Melanie Menken, founder of Booster Pak, whose drive and persistence created and sustained Booster Pak when few would help her with her mighty mission. She was, and is, an inspiration to the entire WDMLA Class of 2011, giving us a real-life example of what one person with a passion to help others can accomplish.
  • Start early, take small bites, and figure it out as a class – no one is going to give you much direction.
  • Get organized, hold the entire class accountable to find their individual niche as a project participant and make it a personal priority.
  • The process gives back more than it takes and bonds class participants together – who knows, it just might change your life.
  • Draw in as many WDM businesses and seek out advice and counsel from all available resources, including former class members.

2010 – Putt Your Best Food Fore-ward

8 class members volunteered to meet with the WDMLA Board’s class project liaisons to form a steering committee. That committee decided upon a survey of ideas for the upcoming class project. It used the Chamber Survey Monkey account to deliver the survey.

During the class session, spokespeople for the steering committee presented the project ideas, and they were held to a vote by the entire class. Approximately 66% of the class voted to benefit the Food Bank of Iowa by hosting a miniature golf event. In addition, during this time, class members selected a tentative date to hold the event in late April or early May of 2010, prior to graduation. The class had a member who was employed by West Glen, and initial steps were taken to secure that location for our event site.

After the class session, emails were sent by the steering committee for sub-committee sign-ups, including: an executive committee (lead committee representing the chairs of each sub-committee); an event management/site logistics committee, a golf course management/design team; a sponsorship committee, a marketing/PR committee, a volunteers committee, and a Food Bank liaison.

The sub-committees were tasked to have at least one organizational meeting under their belts by the December class. At the December session, remaining class members were placed in various sub-committees. Event location was finalized.
The name of the event had not been decided upon at this point. The name was crucial as marketing had to be employed as soon as possible. Several names were submitted at an executive committee meeting and at the January class session, the name “Putt Your Best Food Fore-ward” was chosen. Golf hole sponsorships started to be solicited.


A decision was made to change the beneficiary group from the Food Bank of Iowa to the Des Moines Area Religious Council’s Emergency Food Pantries. The reasons for the switch: DMARC benefits the Greater Des Moines Area vs. the entire state of Iowa for a more local reach; DMARC concentrates on healthier foods preferring higher protein items, and lastly DMARC accepts and even prefers monetary donations in addition to food donations.

The class continued its efforts generating both monetary and in-kind donations. It enlisted the help of Valley High School students to run golf holes during the event, assist with setup and tear-down. Valley High School offers the Silver Chord program, and many of the volunteers used their time as credit toward getting their silver chords at graduation.

Event day was better than we expected. Over 18 corporate golf hole sponsors and more than 50 volunteers helped to contribute over 3,000 food items, over $30,000 in-kind donations, and nearly $14,000 to DMARC’s Emergency Food Pantries.

2009 – Building Leaders

The inaugural Class of 2009 chose to create a program geared toward youth called “Building Leaders.” Building Leaders is a local educational program designed to provide youth with opportunities they might not have otherwise. The concept involved four events per year involving education, culture, sports or the arts.

Two class leaders came forward and presented a plan based on our objectives of serving youth and creating something that would be sustainable. The plan called for four committees to deal with planning, communications/marketing, coordination of volunteers, and event-day logistics. The class divided among the committees.


In April of that year, the first Building Leaders event was held at the Des Moines Playhouse. Thirty West Des Moines youth with connections to West Des Moines Human services attended a production of Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The group was able to have lunch and get to know the cast and crew before the show. After the show, some of the kids had the opportunity to recreate a scene from the play including special effects, lights and sound. All of the children had the opportunity to participate in a curtain call on stage.

In July, the kids rode in a float at the annual West Des Moines Fourth of July parade. They participated in several construction days where the kids built, painted and assembled the float.

On Labor Day, 17 kids had the opportunity to watch an I-Cubs game from the skybox and participate in activities at Principal Park.

Finally, we took the kids on a limo ride through Jolly Holiday Lights.

We made a point of talking to the kids about why we hang with them. During the discussion, one young boy offered up this reason: “to help us grow up to be better people.” We also asked the kids to clean up after themselves and we left our surroundings spotless, sharing lessons about respect and responsibility and how we made it easier on those who have to come in and clean up after us.

Lessons learned:

  • Partnering with West Des Moines Human Services was valuable because they have an established base of the clients we were interested in serving and constant communication with those clients. They were often able to assist in the event in some way, providing space or transportation. It created a “safe zone” for the families we were helping to know our program was associated with WDM Human Services.
  • We decided as we developed the class project that our objectives were to serve youth and create a sustainable program. We did successfully complete two events post-graduation, so still had some involvement from class members, but we were not able to continue the program into subsequent years as we’d hope due to lack of participation. Despite good intentions, sustainability can be difficult.
  • Find a way to involve everyone. We could have done a better job of encouraging those who weren’t big on planning for or participating in the actual events with kids to help fundraise, generate publicity, etc. Instead, we primarily asked for donations
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