Foundation, Seneca High team up for grants

By DEVAN GAGLIARDO – Program director, Community Foundation of Grundy County

May 18, 2015

SENECA – So often the “younger generation” gets a bad reputation. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “kids these days don’t know how to communicate; are always on their phones; have no regard for others; act entitled; are lazy,” well I’d have lots of dollars.

Although this may be true for some youth (and adults), I want to be very clear…not all of today’s youth hide behind iPhones; not all of today’s youth bully their peers; not all of today’s youth are self-centered and inconsiderate.

During the last 5 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with a bright and talented group of students from Seneca High School. This group of the “younger generation” are far busier than I care to be. They are involved in sports, school clubs, and community organizations in addition to taking care of their younger siblings or working, all while maintaining excellent grades.

And yet, all 13 volunteered to meet with me once a month to learn about local nonprofits and philanthropy. Keep in mind these students get nothing for their attendance, except lunch. These students are thoughtful, engaged, and eager to learn.

The very first meeting, students were asked to identify their top areas of interest; they collectively came up with animals, feeding the hungry, children, job opportunities, and education. Based on their choices, local nonprofits serving those populations were asked to come talk about their services.

The organizations who agreed were: Pet Project Inc., JJC/Grundy Workforce Services, Seneca Community Food Pantry, University of Illinois Extension, Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley, Seneca High School, and We Care of Grundy County.

Students were able to learn the basic concept of a community foundation and the grantmaking process. But more importantly, they were exposed to seven organizations who serve the communities the students live in. In some instances, the students did not even know an organization existed.

During the April Youth Philanthropy meeting, the students had the daunting task of deciding how to divide the $5,000 designated. I can honestly say, they did not take this job lightly. As a group they discussed the presentations and the information they had been given.

The group also discussed if giving smaller amounts to more organizations would be better or larger amounts to fewer organizations. In the end they choose to provide grants to four organizations: $700 to Pet Project, Inc., $700 to Seneca Community Food Pantry, $1,800 to We Care of Grundy County, and $1,800 to Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley. On May 13, the students presented checks to the above organizations.

“We Care was honored to be chosen as one of the recipient charities from this group of young people who took such great care to become educated about each of the organizations and carefully deliberated their final choices. They were a very impressive group that asked good questions and showed great compassion for their community as a whole,” Executive Director Denise Gaska said.

Seneca High School students involved are Sean Baker, Gabe Burla, Eva Bruno, Crystal Carlos, Ashley Hatz, Mackenzie Maierhofer, Emily Misener, Mason Mitchell, Lysett Mora, Mariah Solis, Heather Vroman, Cole Westmoreland and Emily Woods.

After reading this you may have several questions like why youth? Many community foundations across the country are starting to see how motivated youth are to be involved.

By engaging individuals while they are young, we begin to instill the importance of philanthropy consequently we grow future philanthropists.

Why Seneca? Last fall, I reached out to the five high schools Grundy County students attend and promoted this new group in the newspaper and on the radio. To be frank, it was this group who showed interest.

Where did the $5,000 come from? The Community Foundation of Grundy County designated $5,000 in the yearly budget for this purpose.

The Foundation’s board and staff want to follow in the footsteps of our foundation peers who have started to grow a philanthropic community one youth at a time.

My hope for the 2015-2016 group is that it will be made up of students from each of the five high schools.

Unlike this year, we will meet beginning in late September and present grants again in May. Meeting for a longer period will allow us to dive into philanthropy more, perform site visits to nonprofits, and accept and review actual grant requests.

The group will meet monthly, in the evening most likely on a Sunday, and likely at the Community Foundation office in Morris.

For information, email [email protected].

I really cannot thank Seneca High School enough for allowing me to come into their school to make this happen. I could not have asked for a better group of students for the pilot year. I look forward to the group expanding next year and can’t wait to see how many lives are touched because of the “younger generation” of philanthropists.

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