GREENVILLE, N.C. – On a recent Thursday afternoon after school, a group of about 15 middle-school kids in Pitt County gathered to begin an extended conversation about how they can help their peers.
The session, which centered on understanding grants, was the first step in preparing these sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, to write a request-for-proposal, evaluate applications and award grants totaling $3,000 to improve the lives of kids in their community.
Sponsored by the Greater Greenville Community Foundation and Pitt County Communities in Schools, this is the first such effort among middle-school kids in North Carolina, says Eric Rowles, president and CEO of Leading To Change, a consultancy that works to promote youth philanthropy.
“The lessons are the same,” he says. “That anyone and everyone has the ability to create change through their time, talent and treasure.”
The first session focused on grants versus loans, and what it’s like to be a grant-maker and a grant-seeker, and next month’s meeting will focus on “paying it forward.”
But for 12-year-old member Conrad Hunter, the concepts surrounding philanthropy take a back seat to what he hopes to achieve.
“I want to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Hunter, a sixth-grader at Hope Middle School in Greenville. “I see a lot of poor people looking for money and food. I want to help their lives be better.”
The first meeting was fun, he says, and he’s mulling over suggestions for when the kids decide on a name for the group next month.
“I think it should be named Change People’s Lives,” says Hunter.
Even though Hunter is a busy pre-teen, who plays basketball, sings with the Greenville Choral Society and gets As and Bs in school, he’s eager to find time to learn how to help others.
And it’s an opportunity to think about other people instead of focusing on his own medical problems, which he says have required dozens of surgeries over the course of his lifetime.
“That makes me want to reach out and help other people,” he says of his experiences.
Through monthly meetings, Hunter and his fellow group members will learn the ins and outs of grant-making and will delve into the needs in their community, learning more about problems like homelessness and high dropout rates.
And by this coming spring, the kids in the group will have created and distributed requests-for-proposals, collected and evaluated grant applications, and will select projects to receive grants, which are made possible through funds from the Greater Greenville Community Foundation.
And while some of the kids came to the first meeting a bit skeptical, Rowles is hoping they will reach the same level of desire for change that Hunter feels.
The first meeting was encouraging, Rowles says.
“They’re very open to trying something new,” he says. “They’re thirsty for a chance to do something like this. They just didn’t realize they were thirsty.”
And Rowles believes that entrusting these big decisions to a group of teens and pre-teens will be an empowering experience for all involved.
“The earlier we can start the better in teaching young people the value of giving,” he says. “And giving does not always have to happen with money. Money isn’t always something they have, but they eat up the concept of giving their time.”
This middle-school giving group is involved in the North Carolina Youth Giving Network, a statewide movement of youth philanthropists.