YC2 teen participants find fun in giving

Community Memorial Foundation program teaches philanthropic basics to high schoolers

For many, the word "philanthropist" refers to a wealthy individual using his or her substantial resources to meet large-scale needs.

But financial benevolence does not depend on one's tax bracket status, a lesson learned by teen members of the YC2 leadership development program - including rising Hinsdale Central senior Amar Gupta.

"Whenever you hear about philanthropy, it's always about some billionaire with a lot of money," Gupta said. "This time they were giving (the power) to actual students and normal people."

YC2, short for Youth Community Changemakers, is an initiative of Community Memorial Foundation to educate and empower local youth to become the next generation of philanthropists. Since December, 60 juniors and seniors from Central, Lyons Township, Nazareth Academy and Riverside-Brookfield High School have been exploring local social needs, studying philanthropic theory and evaluating organizations to determine grant recipients.

John Rivera, a recent Hinsdale Central grad, said he signed on to YC2 after encouragement from a Central teacher.

"We got a lot of learning experience about being a philanthropist and a bit about entrepreneurial stuff, too," he said. "We get to be a part of deciding where this money goes."

"This money" was $15,000, which would be granted based on applicants' proposals in the area of mental health counseling services. Central students were paired with counterparts from R-B in their 29-person cohort, and together they agreed the funds would benefit programs for ages 11-19 that did not exclude people on the basis of language, race/ethnicity, immigration status or ability to pay.

But before awarding any funds, rising Central junior Serene Safvi said the group, which met via Zoom, had a couple of sessions just to get their collective arms around the fundamentals of philanthropy.

"(We learned about) the difference between philanthropy and charity," Safvi explained. "We spent a lot of time focusing on what we were actually going to be doing instead of just determining where we want to give our grant to."

Rivera said they received requests from more than a dozen agencies and whittled them down.

"We each had to read through the applications, go on each organization's website. Then we came back the next session and presented what we found to the group," he said.

"We had to review (the requests) to find out which were the most consistent with our priorities," Gupta added.

Two rounds of narrowing made clear two qualifying beneficiaries for $7,500 grants: The Community House for an on-site social worker for students and families in the Willowbrook Corner neighborhood, and Metropolitan Family Services Southwest to support a behavioral health clinician to work with youth.

Beth Murin, program and communications officer for Community Memorial Foundation who helped shepherd the YC2 program, said the effort aligns with the foundation's goal of creating a culture of philanthropy in the western suburbs.

"We believe that young people need opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of local communities and learn about the importance of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, so that they can become future leaders and stewards," she stated via email. "Program participants cite increased knowledge of asset-based community development and go on to embrace their own philanthropic identities, often engaging in volunteerism or additional ways of offering their time, treasure, talent and ties."

Safvi said the virtual site visits students engaged in revealed to her the level of attention nonprofits give to the causes they serve.

"It was really nice to see that there are people that cared enough about other people and make that what they do as a livelihood," said the Hinsdale resident, admitting surprise at the magnitude of need in just the surrounding area.

Gupta, who was attracted to YC2 by the idea of making a positive difference locally, shared Safvi's sentiment.

"It was really cool to see how there were so many different organizations in our area that were trying to help people," he said.

They agree the pandemic's impact has revealed the issue of mental health in powerful way to them personally. Rivera said whatever the cause, all it takes is a willing heart to be a philanthropist.

"It's a lot more accessible than you would think it is," he said.

"Anyone can make a difference in their local community if they really want to put in the effort," Gupta said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean