Today’s youth as modern philanthropists

Eric Rowles
Eric Rowles

Eric Rowles

As financial markets rise and fall like a roller coaster, jobs and housing become harder to obtain and retain, and human need services become overwhelmed with the level of demand placed upon them – one thing remains true:  The brunt of a struggling economy will eventually fall onto the shoulders of today’s young people.

Whether it’s through a teen shelter that has to close it’s doors and turn out the lights, a health agency that can no longer afford it’s mobile clinic to reach isolated communities, or even the cancellation of an entire summer’s worth of educational programming, the youth of North Carolina are feeling (and reeling) from the direct impact of reduced and eliminated services aimed at their well-being.

If there was ever a time to engage those most directly involved by this lack of resources, it’s now.

More than ever, young people need to see, hear and experience the importance of their involvement as critical players in the recovery and revitalization of our communities.

One out of every four Americans is under the age of 18, and those 70 million youth comprise our country’s largest population group. Of those in their teens, over 13 million volunteer an average of 3 hours per week, totaling over two billion hours of service per year.

How can communities capitalize on this unprecedented giving of time?

Fact is, these young people will be critical factors in our economic recovery, with many navigating their way through first-time jobs, housing, and health needs.

The lessons leaned in an economic-survival mode, coupled with their altruistic and socially-networked wiring, make the Millennials prime candidates to broaden the term of “philanthropists” beyond donors of treasure.

And that’s exactly what is occurring in North Carolina.

This fall, 15 different youth-giving sites will operate throughout the state, from Henderson to Hickory and from Gaston to Gastonia.

Each of these communities is working directly with teenage youth to address the most critical needs that they, as well as their parents, teachers, clinicians, etc., face: a lack of health services, cancelled after-school programming, job readiness training, and the list goes on.

North Carolina currently is engaged in a powerful and unprecedented movement of youth giving, supported by the overall coordination of NCGives through the North Carolina Youth Giving Network.

Through this partnership, the network has engaged over 900 high-school students in giving over 70,000 hours of service and granting over $230,000 in community funds since 2005.

From the establishment of a dating-violence prevention hotline to the funding of a youth operated senior-citizen meals on wheels program, young people in North Carolina are learning firsthand the importance of giving their time, talent and treasure.

And the critical lessons can’t come quick enough.

August marks the official kickoff of the 2009-2010 statewide youth philanthropy program, through which over 600 high-school students will learn first hand not only how to assess current critical needs in their community, but how to develop and market a youth-friendly request-for-proposal process to their peers.

Furthermore, these young people will come face to face with community agencies through an interview and grant-selection process in early 2010, and will learn to follow-up with grantees and measure the impact of their giving by next spring.

It all takes place in the name of philanthropy – directly engaging today’s largest population of givers to take on the hardest challenges of our day -through their time, their talent and their facilitation of community treasure.

And it’s needed now, more than ever.

Eric Rowles is president of Leading to Change, a leadership consultancy based in Charlotte that operates The North Carolina Youth Giving Network in partnership with NCGives. The network can be found online at

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