Teens empowered to make change in YC2 program

I'm often impressed by the young people I interview, whether they're elementary school students moderating a presentation by a NASA engineer or high school athletes recommended by their coaches for our weekly profile.

I had the opportunity last week to witness the culmination of a semester's worth of work by local high school students in Community Memorial Foundation's Young Community Changemakers - or YC2 - program. Sixty teens were divided into two teams and given $15,000 each to award to local nonprofits.

Among the participants were 18 students from Hinsdale Central High School and two students from Nazareth Academy who live in Hinsdale. (A shout out here to Naz student Margaret King, daughter of Hinsdale Police Chief Brian King, who also was part of the group.)

The teens reviewed applications from 21 nonprofit agencies that hoped to receive grant money to help meet basic needs, such as providing food and shelter. They narrowed that list down to five before conducting site visits and ultimately awarding funds to BEDS Plus, Bridge Communities, Hope's Front Door and Housing Forward (see Good News on Page 16 for more details).

Those of us in attendance at Friday's celebration were fortunate enough to hear several participants introduce the grantee organizations and talk about their experiences in the program. Jason Yawe, a Central junior who plans to work in finance one day, said he joined the group to learn more about philanthropy - and received a firsthand lesson in leveraging funds. The students were able to fully fund BEDS Plus' grant request only when both groups agreed to allocate a portion of their funds. That practice has widespread implications, he noted.

"We have to work together with other groups to help better society collectively," he said.

Yawe said another thing he learned is how important it is for agencies to treat clients with respect.

"Sometimes we forget the people we're helping are just like us," he said.

Anne Dillon, an LT junior who sat on the discussion panel with Yawe, shared a story her instructor told about the difference between charity and philanthropy. Imagine a town along a river, she said, where people begin noticing babies, one a day, floating down the river. Charity consists of pulling the babies out of the river to take care of them. Philanthropy is going up the river to find out what is causing the babies to end up in the river in the first place.

"We need both," Dillon said. "We need long-term solutions and short-term solutions."

Sam Royer and Alexis Hernandez, students at Riverside-Brookfield and Naz, respectively, also were on the panel. The sense of empowerment all four gained through this process was clear from their comments.

That was the goal when the YC2 program launched four years ago, said Greg DiDomenico, CMF president and CEO.

"It really was about them owning the process," he said.

The teens worked with a team of instructors and foundation staff members Tom Fuechtmann and Beth Murin before meeting the leaders of nonprofits. The program provides teens with hands-on experiences and helps build a culture of philanthropy, DiDomenico said.

He was as impressed with the students as I was. I asked him what he thought after he heard them speak.

"These kids are going to have our jobs at the foundation - that was my first thought, in all honesty," he said with a laugh. "I was so inspired by their dedication and commitment, and not just to the program, but to the needs of our neighbors in our community."

The teens at times shared a new perspective on the grant-making process.

"I learned from them," DiDomenico said.

I did, too.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean