Youth move from speculation to optimism to action

 Eric Rowles

There’s a great deal of speculation out there these days.

An economic market that is or is not recovering, depending on whom you ask; a job market that still reports record levels of unemployment; a housing market that blips up and  down.

Truth be told, there’s good reason for cautious skepticism all around us.

At the same time, there’s also room for genuine optimism in North Carolina.

From the 13-year-old in Greenville to the 20 year old in Gastonia, both of whom are learning how to “pay it forward” through community giving and grant-making.

A movement of youth philanthropy is taking place across the state, driven by community-based investors, advisors, volunteers and yes, even (and especially) teenagers.

This year, 21 youth-giving sites will operate throughout the State, from Henderson to Hickory, from Gaston to Gastonia.

Each of these communities is working directly with young people to address the most critical needs that they – as well as their parents, teachers, clinicians, etc., face: a lack of health services, overcrowded classrooms, cancelled after-school programming, job readiness training, limited access to health care. And the list goes on.

Our state is currently engaged in a powerful and unprecedented movement of youth giving through the North Carolina Youth Giving Network.

Through this network of over 30 different community foundations, youth serving agencies, sponsoring organizations and private donors, the movement has engaged over 900 high school students in giving over 90,000 hours of service and granting over $300,000 in community funds since 2005.

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

Optimism turns into action this month as September marks the official kickoff of the 2010-2011 statewide youth philanthropy program, with more than 300 high-school students learning firsthand not only how to assess current critical needs in their community, but than how to develop and market a youth-friendly request-for-proposals 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 2011, 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, and directly engages today’s largest population of givers to take on the hardest challenges of our day, by giving their time, their talent and their facilitation of community treasure.

And it reminds us daily, that from Wilmington to Wilkesboro, and from Jackson to Jacksonville, there’s still reason to be optimistic.

There’s still reason to authentically invest in our young people as experts in their communities.

And there’s still reason to remind each of us that we move from speculation to change by paying and giving it forward, one action at a time.

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

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