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Youth giving focus of statewide network

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg received $400 to support Walk in My Shoes, a mentoring project created by students at Phillip O’Berry Academy High School to help lower-classmen learn from upper-classmen about navigating the school and its social networks.

And Youth Homes Inc. received $2,500 for Right Start Parent for Life, a program to provide parenting training for pregnant teens in foster care.

Each grant was made by a separate team of high school students who are part of the North Carolina Youth Giving Network, a statewide initiative that this fall will grow to local funds in 16 communities that aim to help young people learn to be philanthropists by teaching them to make grants to programs that serve young people.

“We’re creating a movement of youth giving in North Carolina,” says Eric Rowles, president and CEO of Leading To Change, a Charlotte firm that provides consulting and training to communities involved in the local funds.

The youth-giving network grew out of the Discovery Alliance, a statewide effort funded by the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation that focused on identifying and promoting diverse giving in the state.

Based on a conference on youth giving the Discovery Alliance sponsored in 2005 for 12 community foundations from throughout the state, four of those foundations set up youth funds in Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Davie County.

With seed funding from the Discovery Alliance and from each of the four community foundations, the initial four youth-giving funds also received support from NCGives, a fund the Kellogg Foundation created at the Raleigh-based North Carolina Community Foundation to foster giving by young people, women and communities of color.

Designed to engage young people in community organizing and social-justice work and help them create a legacy for themselves, the youth-giving program in each community is organized by a site coordinator and housed either at the local community foundation or at a local agency that serves youth.

After being recruited by schools, agencies, religious congregations or other groups that work with youth, 20 to 30 participants are selected for a local team each spring through a competitive process that aims for diversity based on race, class and gender, and tries to ensure a broad representation of local high schools.

Then, from the start of the school year through May, each team meets once a month for two to three hours, receiving grantmaking lessons from 15 trainers coordinated by Leading To Change.

Topics include assessing community needs; developing requests for proposals and reviewing grant proposals; selecting grants by consensus; visiting and interviewing grant applicants; providing follow-up support for grant recipients; making community presentations about youth philanthropy; and working with the media to promote the work of the local youth-giving programs.

Ranging from $500 to $5,000, grants in the first three years of the program have totaled just over $110,000.

Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, for example, provides $3,000 for the youth-giving fund it sponsors, while Foundation for the Carolinas in Charlotte
provides $10,000 for its youth-giving fund.

The network sponsors a statewide conference each fall for participating students, who also communicate electronically with one another, and sponsors a roundtable each June for the students’ advisers.

Monthly evaluations their advisers conduct each month find big increases in the students’ awareness of issues facing young people in their communities, while journals they write show they are recognizing their potential and power as givers, as well as the importance of social justice, Rowles says.

The youth-giving effort, he says, is “changing how young people are seen as expert resources in each of these communities.”

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