RICHLAND — It's a special day when someone is handed a check signed by Jesus Christ.
OK, so, the giant-size checks bearing Christ's name on the signature line can't be cashed, the two nonprofits who received them Wednesday also got five-figure numbers printed on smaller versions that are genuine.
It was the spirit of fellowship and service inspired by Christ that led those involved with the 2011 ShareFest to raise more than $40,000 for Ignite Youth Mentoring and Teen Challenge -- organizations dedicated to helping at-risk teens break the cycles that lead young people into substance abuse, gang involvement and dropping out of school.
ShareFest Director Mark Baker handed the real checks -- in small envelopes -- to the two nonprofits' directors and thanked them for what they do for the Tri-City community.
"You guys work on opposite ends of the spectrum toward the same goal," Baker said. "We really appreciate you guys."
Ignite Youth Mentoring is a relatively new nonprofit started by Todd Kleppin, a former youth pastor at Central United Protestant Church in Richland. Its goal is to connect kids to mentors who can help guide them to make positive, life-affirming choices to stay in school and out of the juvenile justice system.
Kleppin said the $20,000 and change presented to the nonprofit would help it expand to help more kids find mentors.
The money also will help Ignite promote itself to attract more volunteers to serve as mentors, which Kleppin said was the nonprofit's No. 1 need.
Kleppin said Ignite has a number of kids on a waiting list and believes there are thousands in the community who need mentors.
"The biggest thing I'm trying to do is make adults understand that kids do want to be with them," Kleppin said. "If they care, kids notice that."
He said the money will help Ignite establish a long-term presence in the Tri-Cities.
"I'm blown away by the enormity of this amount," he said. "This really helps us lay the ground work for being here for good."
Pastor Jesse Campos, executive director of Teen Challenge in the Tri-Cities, said the $20,000 he received Wednesday will help the nonprofit add beds to the home it operates where young men can recover from drug and alcohol abuse in a yearlong residential program.
The money also will help Teen Challenge open a thrift store to provide income to sustain the nonprofit and offer participants work experience to help them as they re-establish their lives.
Campos also plans to start a program to help teen boys and young men break free of gangs, but is trying to raise an additional $10,000 to get it started.
"This is awesome," Campos said Wednesday. "The amount is huge. This is going to help a lot of guys get out of gangs and get off of drugs."
Teen Challenge is having a fundraising banquet at 6 p.m. May 20 at the Clarion Hotel, 1515 George Washington Way, Richland. Cost is $40 per person.
* On the net: Ignite, cupchurch.org/ministries/youth/ignite-youth-mentoring; Teen Challenge, teenchallengepnw.com; ShareFest, sharefesttricities.com