With four years of philanthropic work under her belt, Molly Graham has experience both on the grantmaking and the grantseeking sides of funding.
And she’s only 17 years old.
At age 12, Graham served as the president of her North Davie Middle School’s Beta Club, which needed money to build a low-ropes course.
She applied for funds from Davie Community Foundation’s SURF Board, made a presentation about her project and received funding.
Later that year, she was invited to become a member of SURF, which stands for Students Understanding Rural Futures, a youth-led group that awards grants to benefit the youth of Davie County.
“When I was interviewed to become part of the board, the advisor asked me what philanthropy means and I didn’t know the word,” she says. “She explained it’s the giving of time, talent and treasure. I realized I’d been doing that for a long time.”
Now a senior at Davie County High School, and coming off a term as SURF’s president, Graham serves as presidential advisor for the group, which meets monthly and includes 20 Davie County teens from several area high schools.
Each year, the group collectively determines a funding priority, always related to its mission: “We are SURF and we will use our time, talent and treasure to create opportunities for youth in our community.”
It then creates a request for proposals, sends it out to local organizations, publicizes it and collects and reviews applications for funding.
“We have to come to complete consensus,” Graham says of the process to select grantees. “It can be a long night, but everyone has to agree.”
One year, SURF awarded a grant to help purchase laptops that students without computers at home could check out from the library.
It has funded restoration of the outdoor amphitheater at Davie High for the school’s drama club.
And it awarded a grant to the teen center at the Davie Family YMCA to purchase equipment.
The group has $2,200 available for grants this year, almost all of it raised through a ping-pong tournament and a raffle organized by the youth.
Applications will go out in November and are due back in January.
The process has given Graham a new view of her community.
“Before SURF, I don’t think I had a good idea of what was happening in the whole county,” she says. “You see a different side of the community and you have a different outlook after you learn the community’s needs and see the impact it makes.”
That in-depth look at needs, along with the perspective youth have of their peers’ needs, can transform teens into successful grantmakers.
“As teens, we see things differently than adults,” Graham says. “They may overlook some things we see as important from our point of view.”
While Graham will have to say goodbye to SURF Board when she heads to college next year, she says her younger brother, a sophomore in high school, has joined the group.
And he may well get from the experience the same sense of empowerment his older sister will take away.
“When you think about giving high-school students money to make decisions, lots of people don’t think that’s a wise choice,” Molly Graham says. “But people my age are able to make a significant impact on our county and make positive changes that directly impact the lives of people our age.”
Molly Graham is a member of the Davie County SURF Board and is involved in the North Carolina Youth Giving Network, a statewide movement of youth philanthropists.