It’s not (just) about the money

Eric Rowles
Eric Rowles

Eric Rowles

Ask the random person on the street what Philanthropy means, and you’re likely to get a range of answers: It’s what wealthy folks do; it’s giving money to different causes; it’s how the Oprahs and Bill Gates of the world leave their mark…

The truth is, the term “philanthropy” is often misunderstood from its original meaning, which dates back 2,500 years to when Greek playwright Aeschylus first coined the term in “Prometheus Bound.”

Philanthropy isn’t just about money, or the transfer of wealth. Rather, it means the “love of humanity.”

Fast forward to 2011 and witness a movement of young people in North Carolina who have captured and run with the idea of loving humanity through giving “three T’s,” their time, their talent and allocating community treasure.

They’re the 14-year-old who scraped together over $50 to buy stuffed animals to give to kids in the hospital, and the 18-year-old who spent her spring break building houses in Mississippi rather than playing on the beach in Mexico.

And over 300 young North Carolinians this past year channeled their love of humanity – their philanthropy – through the North Carolina Youth Giving Network.

Since 2005, over 1,000 high-school and middle-school students have given 90,000 hours of service and granted a total of over $375,000 in community funds, including approximately $60,000 in 2010 alone.

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

And this year, teens from 21 sites, ranging from Wilmington to Wilkesboro, from Gaston to Gastonia, rolled up their sleeves, opened their minds and single-handedly changed their communities.

  • In Greensboro, a 13-year-old and his peers rebuilt old computers to donate to youth with special needs.
  • In Shelby, a team of middle-school students facilitated a week-long program to highlight the impact of child abuse, then created a support network for some of their peers who stepped forward for the first time to disclose their own experiences.
  • In Wilkesboro, group of teens approached the superintendent to buy books they could use to teach, read and then donate to needy elementary schools. The very next week, they rolled up their sleeves and transformed a dilapidated park from rusty swing sets and splintered benches to a family friendly facility.
  • In Jacksonville, high-school students have become mentors and advocates to war veterans and have supported their return to the community after their service.

Last week, during one of the closing ceremonies that occurred throughout the state as giving programs wrapped up for the year, teen philanthropists spoke to their own giving.

None captured the true meaning of “the love of humanity” better Zach in Charlotte as he used the term shelter to describe his experience.

“Through our group, we helped shelter over 60 teens in the homes of loving foster families,” he said. “We helped shelter homeless teens from standing out negatively among their peers at school by giving them supplies such as coats, soap, etc. And we helped shelter teens unable to continue high school along the path by successfully joining the work force. But our organization didn’t just change the lives of hundreds of teens, it changed me as a person as well. No longer will I live my life sheltered from what’s going on around me. It’s been life changing for me to be a part of this group, and I owe it to them for instilling this worldview in me.”

It’s not just about the money. And a movement in North Carolina is learning and living this lesson each day.

Just ask Zach.

Eric Rowles is president of Leading to Change, a training organization that operates the North Carolina Youth Giving Network in partnership with NCGives.

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