CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Although she’s only 17, Charlotte teen Zoë Kronovet already has awarded charitable grants, worked at a foundation and spent time matching volunteers with projects in need.
At the age of 15, the rising Myers Park High School senior participated in the Teen Impact Fund, a program of Foundation for the Carolinas that aims to spark a philanthropic spirit in local youth.
While Kronovet had participated in community-service projects through her temple and school, she thought philanthropy was beyond her.
“I just thought it was wealthy people giving money and being done with it,” she says. “As a teen I didn’t have the money to donate to a nonprofit.”
Through the Teen Impact Fund, she learned there are other ways to give back.
Started in 2005, the fund aims to show people ages 14 to 18 that it’s possible for young people to have an impact on their community, says Lauren Evans, who oversees the Teen Impact Fund for the foundation.
Each year, the foundation chooses up to 25 teens from diverse backgrounds who together decide how to give away $10,000 provided by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Foundation.
The teens settle on three problems or issues affecting their peers, research nonprofits, help design a request-for-proposals, go on site visits and decide which projects to fund.
That’s a lot of responsibility to give to youth, says Kronovet, and it made an impression.
“I thought it was an amazing thing that the foundation would trust teens with $10,000,” she says. “Your parents hardly trust you with your own money. And it was an unbelievable thing that they would put that aside for teens in the community.”
Over the course of the several months, Kronovet and her peers worked with the foundation at monthly meetings to learn the ins and outs of philanthropy, which Kronovet learned is the giving of time, talent and treasure.
Through a series of discussions, her group decided to focus on teen pregnancy, gangs and domestic violence and sexual abuse.
After researching local nonprofits that deal with these topics, the group put together a grant application, tailoring questions to the specific issues they were interested in.
After their site visits they participated in a retreat, during which they “talked for hours” about how to award the money.
“There were certain rules we were given to follow and it provided a really structured but open environment,” says Kronovet. “Everyone gets a chance to talk.”
They chose to split their $10,000 among three groups, with the largest grant of $5,000 going to the Steele Creek Youth Network, a program run by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department that serves at-risk kids ages 11 to 18.
Four other nonprofits received grants ranging from $825 to $1,500.
Not only did that experience provide Kronovet with a hands-on education in philanthropy, it sparked in her a desire to learn more about the nonprofit sector.
“I think I have a better grasp of what philanthropy means and how it works and I definitely want to learn more,” she says.
After the class ended, Kronovet sought out a one-week internship at the foundation.
And in the summer of 2008, she worked as an intern at Hands On Charlotte, a group that facilitates volunteering by helping matching individuals and groups with projects that interest them.
Foundation for the Carolinas is preparing to welcome its 2009-2010 class of teens, who together not only will give away $10,000, but may well gain a new sense of empowerment and responsibility.
“A lot of folks these days think that the issues we face are a lost cause,” says Evans. “We don’t want these teens to feel that way. There are lots of ways you can contribute.”