JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – In what they hope will be the first of many grant cycles, a group of Onslow County teenagers worked together to award a total of $550 to two efforts supporting local youth.
Onslow County Harmony, short for Helping All Reach More Options through New Youth Givers, started last fall with the dual goals of learning about philanthropy through first-hand experience and supporting programs assisting their peers in the community.
"If we can make a change, and if we put our minds to it, we will make a better tomorrow," says Gabrielle Landi, a member of Harmony and a 16-year old sophomore at Jacksonville High School.
Landi is an experienced volunteer – having worked with the local soup kitchen and women’s shelter and helped clean up the New River – but didn’t know much about the concept of philanthropy.
"I’d heard of it, but never really looked into it and didn’t know what it meant," she says.
But through Harmony, she says, she now understands that philanthropy is "not just the giving of money, but of time and talent."
"It’s real people wanting to make a change for people you don’t even know," says Landi, who is involved in the North Carolina Youth Giving Network, a statewide movement of youth philanthropists. "This moment, this thing we do, can make a real change in someone’s life."
Landi was drawn to the Harmony by the promise of learning how grantmaking works, and to make a difference beyond volunteerism.
Made up of about a dozen local teens, Harmony has been meeting monthly to learn about how grants are made, including designing a grantmaking focus, putting together a request for proposals, and getting the word out in the community that funds are available.
After discussing the challenges facing their peers, Harmony members decided to give funding priority to youth-led efforts that focus on homelessness among teenagers, teen pregnancy or substance abuse.
They then created a grant application that outlined eligibility, funding priorities and details for successful completion of the application.
With the request for proposals completed, Harmony members distributed flyers throughout the community to advertise the program’s existence.
Once applications came in, group members worked together to decide how much money to give to which groups, finally settling on two efforts supporting local teens.
St. Julia A.M.E. Zion Church in Jacksonville received $450 to help homeless youth by giving them backpacks filled with school supplies and a $10 gift card.
The effort will benefit five students at each of four high schools, says Landi.
Another $100 will be used to sponsor a fair promoting awareness of health living and healthy choices, an effort organized by TEEN/New Season Youth & Community Development, also in Jacksonville.
The bulk of the money for the grants came from the Jacksonville City Council, supplemented by a gift from an anonymous donor and additional funds contributed by Harmony members.
"We’re paying it forward," says Landi. "We’re giving our time, talent and treasure for people in the future, not just for us or the people who gave it to us, but for the greater good."
And being entrusted to distribute hundreds of dollars of other people’s money is a new experience for this group of teens.
"It’s a responsibility knowing that these people in authority have trusted us with this amount of money and trust us to make the right decision, especially when people hear about us and donate even more money" says Landi.
With the inaugural year under their belts, Harmony members are ready to take their new skills and repeat the process next year.
"I’m sure I’ll always stay involved," says Landi of the Harmony and philanthropy in general. "This year was fun and now that we have a basis and know what we’re doing, we can make it even better."