News - Kane County

Kane County high schoolers invited to help give away $20K to charity

New program to teach teens about philanthropy, grant-making

GENEVA – A new opportunity for high school students to learn about philanthropy is available this fall in Kane County with the advent of LEAP, which stands for Leadership, Education, Altruism and Philanthropy.

Jay Christopher, who started the Pampered Chef, donated $20,000 for participating students to cull grant applications and figure out which nonprofit gets what, Director of LEAP Fox Valley Ellen Odom said at the Aug. 15 Geneva City Council meeting.

A Geneva resident, Odom said she works for Christopher. The Christopher Family Foundation helped fund the curriculum for LEAP, which started at Oak Park-River Forest High School 15 years ago, she said.

“I convinced Jay to let me start one here,” Oldom said.

Participation is a two-year commitment for the students, she said. Participating students will meet once a month on the second Tuesday at the United Methodist Church, 211 Hamilton St., Geneva, she said.

They are seeking 30 students for the first year, which involves students contacting area nonprofits to tell them they have money to give away, Odom said.

“Then the students all get together and basically vet the not-for-profits,” Odom said. “And in addition to that, in their curriculum, they learn all the whole business of philanthropy and not-for-profits.”

Applicants will submit their financial information for students to consider while deciding what grants to approve.

“They will learn about how each part is important and that not all of the revenue the not-for-profit raises goes to programs,” Odom said. “They will learn about percentages and endowments.”

The maximum grant is $10,000, so students can decide to give out two $10,000 grants or 10 $2,000 grants, however it works out, she said.

In the second year, that first group of 30 students will do fundraising and make presentations to donors to raise money for the next year. While they work on fundraising, a new crop of 30 students will begin their first year of vetting nonprofits to give away $20,000, Odom said.

Christopher is providing $60,000 in startup funds for both years of the program – $20,000 for each of the first-year programs and $20,000 for expenses. Then it is intended to be self-funded, Odom said.

Nonprofits are enthused about the program, Odom said, as their donors are aging out.

“They talk about this at every board meeting, ‘How do you get younger people involved in this?’” Odom said.

She is looking for assistance in leads for potential donors as well as mentors – people involved in philanthropy who are willing to assist students.

The biggest challenge is getting information to the students so they will get involved, Odom said. She’s been talking to student councils in Kane County to introduce the program.

Information is available online at along with a student application, she said.

“We look for a wide range of kids,” Odom said.

LEAP Fox Valley also has partnered with Dominican University so participating students can get up to six college credits, she said.

Another aspect of the program is strategic volunteerism. Students will be matched with nonprofits they would like to work with in an area of their interest, Odom said.

Marmion Academy in Aurora and Elgin Academy are receptive, she said, because it would provide part of the service hours they require of students. St. Charles East High School announced the program in its newsletter, and Odom said she is trying to talk to Geneva and Batavia high schools as well.

“We’ve got the program all together. We just need the students,” Odom said. “We want to keep it fun and we want to engage them in this. We don’t want it to be a big school thing, you know. It should be fun.”