Youth Philanthropy: A Gateway to College Activism

Ever get tired of hearing young people referred to as apathetic? As college activists involved in Feminist Majority Leadership Alliances, we are shattering the misconception of a jaded and complacent generation. Yet, undoubtedly, many of us have encountered apathy among our peers, particularly during high school. Why do so many young people fail to get involved in activism and community outreach until college? At an age when young students are commonly perceived to be overwhelmed with their own life changes, teenagers involved in youth philanthropy are reaching out to their surrounding communities, changing lives and learning valuable skills that will aid them in future college activism and organizing. Through involvement in committees such as the Grand Rapids Foundation Youth Grant Committee and the Community Foundation Silicon Valley Youth in Philanthropy Committee, students are directly expressing their concerns by making donations as large as $10,000 to organizations that represent their interests.

These committees place critical decision-making power in the hands of high school students. Students evaluate grant-proposals based on the interests of the youth they represent and select non-profit organizations to receive grants from their foundation. Such experiences help young women and men develop important leadership, networking, public-speaking, communication, fund-raising, and grant-writing skills that will prepare them for future activism at their universities and in their careers.

The Community Foundation Silicon Valley Youth in Philanthropy Committee targets youth who lack other outlets for gaining leadership experience. As the decision-makers who conduct interviews and evaluate proposals, committee members have the opportunity to donate grants of $100-$1000 to youth-run non-profit organizations that support social justice causes like the needs of young women and girls and gay and lesbian issues.

This past spring, the committee chose to donate to five groups that specifically benefit young women and girls. One grant went to a youth group project, Entre Mujeres, to fund a women’s conference for all ages as a forum for girls and their mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers to discuss women’s issues.

The Grand Rapids Foundation Youth Grant Committee evaluates as many as 43 grant proposals per year to receive a portion of their $80,000 budget. To ensure they are accurately representing their community’s interests, students distribute surveys to local schools every two years to get feed-back on issues of concern to their peers. Committee member and former co-chair Kelsey Haynes is particularly proud of one project the committee recently funded, The Travelling Grannies. This innovative program consists of a group of older women who serve as mentors and assistant “grannies” to pregnant and parenting teens identified as at-risk for abuse, neglect, or repeated pregnancy. In addition to grant-making, the Committee also works closely with the Kent County Violence Prevention Youth Coalition in working to prevent sexual assault and violence in schools. Students write letters of protest to companies with offensive and violent advertisements in an effort to curb the glorification of violence in the media.

The skills gained through youth philanthropy are essential to the fundraising and public outreach components of campus organizing. Students on these committees are well prepared to jump into activism as soon as they reach college. Encourage your high school friends to stamp out the myth of teenage apathy by joining a local youth philanthropy committee. Then help them get involved in a Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance when they reach college! For more information on youth philanthropy, check out www.siliconvalleygives.org and www.grfoundation.org.


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