Grass-roots goodwill by students at School 2 Career

A dozen teens become philanthropists as they raise funds and award money for projects for urban neighborhoods


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The first time McAuley Ministries attempted to launch a program that gave teens hands-on experience as philanthropists in urban neighborhoods, the effort never got off the ground.

But that false start turned into a win for a dozen students at School 2 Career, an affiliate of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. that provides high school students with mentorship, career training and academic assistance as they try to figure out their future options.

After its first foray with a youth philanthropy program fizzled, the foundation arm of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System approached School 2 Career with its idea. The mentorship program eagerly embraced the plan.

The result is an initiative through which teens ages 13-18 have raised just over $600, received a $3,000 match from McAuley and now are charged with awarding the money to aspiring entrepreneurs -- who also happen to be teenagers.

The grant dollars may not be in the millions, but those involved with the initiative say it has been an unquestionable success in exposing teens to grass-roots fundraising and the process of parceling out dollars to projects that will benefit a local community.

"We saw this as an opportunity to add to [our students'] career development," said Karla Stallworth, program director at School 2 Career.

The program targets high school students who live in the city and attend both public and private schools; 45 percent of its participants live in the Hill District, Uptown and West Oakland, Ms. Stallworth said.

While for 16 years it has provided students with job shadowing and volunteerism opportunities -- in addition to college test preparation and other academic support -- it never before had a philanthropy component.

"We were excited yet unsure because we didn't really understand the terms of philanthropy," said Dynae Shaw of Garfield, a senior at Pittsburgh Obama who attends School 2 Career and is chair of the youth philanthropy initiative.

At McAuley Ministries, which provides funds for several after-school programs including School 2 Career, the board was looking for a program in which the students would have their own financial investment, said Michele Rone Cooper, the foundation's executive director. So it decided the teens would raise a portion of the money to be allocated and the foundation would match it fivefold.

"We wanted youth to learn how they might give their resources and talents, and develop as leaders ... to leverage an opportunity and have it youth-led."

Another partner in the initiative, the Poise Foundation, is managing the funds that will be awarded.

Projects that will receive the money must be based in the Hill, Uptown or West Oakland.

Once School 2 Career selected 12 student philanthropists, they were each required to attend a weeklong orientation in June that included speakers from local foundations and nonprofits who shared expertise about fundraising, grant-making, marketing and identifying community problems.

Then the students brainstormed about how to come up with their share of the grants and how to distribute the final amount.

"We had to raise money and give money. That made us feel powerful," Ms. Shaw said.

After they drafted a list of projects they thought would be meaningful for the neighborhoods where the money would be spent -- including a community garden and a dance program for children whose families could not afford private lessons at a studio -- the students voted to allocate the funds to teens with their own ideas for new businesses, Ms. Shaw said.

"There are not a lot of programs that focus on youth entrepreneurship with youth making the decisions," she said. "We wanted people to give back to the community through their talents, time or money."

To raise their portion of the grant money, the youth philanthropists held a series of "restaurant nights" during which establishments including Chili's, Applebee's and Red Robin agreed to donate 10 percent of the bill for patrons who mentioned the philanthropy project. Their most successful fundraiser was a car wash at Vento's Pizza in East Liberty.

To solicit donations and spread the word, the students used Facebook posts, Twitter and mass emails to friends and family members, Ms. Shaw said.

"We raised more than enough to start fundraising for another project next year," said Ms. Shaw, who hopes by then she will be accepted to study forensic accounting at a college or university.

After the group collaborated on how to write a request for proposals for grant projects, it again put the word out through social media, posters "and lots of word of mouth," Ms. Stallworth said.

At a workshop scheduled for Saturday at the Hill House Association, students were to receive assistance on crafting their business proposals.

Applications for the grants -- one for $1,000 and four $500 awards -- are due Nov. 19 and presentations will be made to the philanthropists Dec. 8. The money should be awarded by the end of the year.

While the initiative is among few that allow teens to not only raise funds but make most of the decisions in the grant-making process, it isn't the first in the region to involve youth in giving.

Since the early 1990s, the Heinz Endowments has sponsored an eight-week youth philanthropy internship program for students who have just graduated from high school. This past summer, 36 interns, working in groups of four or five, developed requests for proposals that would foster sustainability in the Pittsburgh region. They awarded a total of $200,000 to different projects.

Lawrenceville-based Pittsburgh Cares has a program for children in grades 1-8 who volunteer at various local nonprofits once a month and also learn about community philanthropy. Their families pay $500 to participate in the program, which allows the students to make "mini-grants" to community projects.

Among the pioneers of youth philanthropy in the U.S. are statewide initiatives in Michigan and Indiana that provide expertise to promote the concept of young people volunteering and giving back.

"Youth are fearless about fundraising, and adults have trouble saying no to youths," said Jill Gordon, program director at the Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana, which was launched in 2001 and is based in Indianapolis. Since its inception, YPII has helped young Indiana philanthropists raise about $7 million, she said.

About 35 community foundations in that state have youth philanthropy programs or youth councils for which YPII offers resources, Ms. Gordon said. "Our mission is to grow lifelong philanthropists who give their time, talent and treasures for the common good."

While the Poise Foundation did not contribute hard dollars to the local youth philanthropy initiative in Pittsburgh, it shared fundraising and grant-making expertise with the students in addition to handling fund management. The foundation's mission is to encourage African-Americans to engage in giving in black communities.

"The idea of educating the younger generation about philanthropy was very exciting to us," said Karris Jackson, vice president of programs at the Downtown-based foundation.

"I think the teens were initially surprised by the idea that they are philanthropists, whether they're doing community service or donating $5 or $2.50 to a cause at school."

For more information on the Youth Philanthropy Initiative grant competition or to submit a proposal, contact Dynae Shaw at dshaw@s2c.opdc.org.

businessnews

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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