Community Pulse: Youth Philanthropy Program gets students involved in non-profits early

Grace Mennenga, the summer intern for the Community Foundation of Grundy County.

The Community Foundation of Grundy County’s Youth Philanthropy Program is a great way to get high school students involved in their communities and resources around them.

Currently there are four schools involved in the program, Coal City High School, Gardner-South Wilmington High School, Morris Community High School, and Seneca High School. Each school receives a $5,000 grant and decides which non-profit organizations they would like to award the money to. Throughout the school year, groups from each school are assembled, and they meet with the Program Director, Devan Gagliardo.

The groups meet a few times to discuss what the program does, what kind of nonprofits they want to hear from, and exactly which programs they would like to hear from. Later in the year, each school receives presentations prepared by each non-profit organization applying for the grant that the school wanted to hear from. These presentations were an eye-opening experience for students who may have never heard of such programs, or did not know of issues in and around the Grundy County area. Each of the presentations gave information about their causes and what they would do with the money if they were awarded it by the schools.

Based on the students’ interests there were several options of non-profits to learn about through the presentations. Interests were sparked in children’s advocacies, mental health, food programs, and more. After hearing several presentations, students in each group discussed which non-profits they would like to award money to, and if there were multiple being awarded, how much money would be going to each program.

On May 13, each group from the four schools were invited to the Youth Philanthropy Dinner at the Gardner American Legion to award the non-profits that they chose with checks of the amount that they won.

Coal City High School awarded $1,700 to the Coal City Backpack program, $1,300 to the Children’s Advocacy Center, $1,000 to Ambucs Grundy County Chapter, and $1,000 to Beans-and-Bites. When choosing which nonprofits to award, the group kept in mind that they wanted to benefit the community that they lived in, so rewarding to programs in their town was important to them, and over the years of participating in the Youth Philanthropy program, the students are delighted to see positive changes in their school and community.

Gardner-South Wilmington High School awarded $1,000 to Catholic Charities Diocese of Joliet, $1,000 to the Village of Gardner, $750 to Morris Rotaract/We Care of Grundy County, $700 to Beans-and-Bites, $700 to the GSW Student Assistance Fund, $400 to the Grundy County Transit System, and $250 to Just Animals. Like Coal City, GSW wanted to benefit their community, so it was crucial for them to award money to nonprofits that work well in their community.

Morris Community High School awarded $3,000 to CASA of River Valley, $1,500 to Children’s Advocacy Center, and $500 to Community Nutrition Network. The very large group from Morris was very interested in every presentation that they viewed, but overall, valued what each program would do with the given money. Morris wanted to help the organizations who would put the money towards a greater cause. This group was also very influenced by the thoughtful presentations made, and felt strong connections to every non-profit they were introduced to.

Seneca High School awarded $2,500 to Grundy Area PADS and $2,500 to CASA of River Valley. Though Seneca does not directly benefit from the organizations that they chose because they are not located in Grundy County, they still believed it was just as important to award them money. The school has also been supporting these programs for many years, and continues to this year.

As a student this year involved in Youth Philanthropy with Morris Community High School, I loved getting to have this experience. Each presentation was intriguing and worthy of recognition. Getting to know more about the non-profits in the area has opened not only my eyes, but my peers as well, to know more about our community and what we can do to better it for the future.