[Hpn] Weston, Ma - Youths play old game of giving grants - The Christian Science Monitor - November 24, 2003
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Mon, 24 Nov 2003 07:24:16 -0500
Youths play old game of giving grants
Sara Steindorf - Christian Science Monitor - November 24, 2003
Nine teenagers from the Rivers School in Weston, Mass.,
gathered in their cafeteria last Tuesday evening for an
unlikely meeting. Munching on pizza, they mulled over the
effectiveness of several charities for disabled youths in
An adult staff member of the Crossroads Community
Foundation, a philanthropic organization in nearby Natick,
mostly kept quiet as the teens talked. Finally, the
high-schoolers voted on which charities would receive grants
totaling $10,000. The adult abstained.
The volunteer work for Crossroads "teaches me about the
problems in my community and that I can do something to fix
them," says Kelsey Clark, a junior at the Rivers School, who
is not your average deep-pocketed director on a foundation
Indeed, the top ranks of philanthropists are moving beyond
the blue-blooded. Increasing numbers of teenagers are being
taught the fundamentals of charitable giving - deciding how
to spend thousands of dollars, encouraging other youths to
start service projects, and bird-dogging such projects to
hold grant recipients to their promises.
Although the youth-philanthropy movement is too new to tell
for sure, early signs suggest it operates as a two-way
street. Charities breed habits of giving early on. And
youths sometimes turn their lives around dramatically,
thanks in part to the charitable experience.
"For years we've asked young people to volunteer, and to be
engaged in their communities, but we haven't given them
meaningful roles," says Joel Orosz, a former program
director at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek,
Now they do. In the late 1980s, Kellogg jump-started the
youth philanthropy phenomenon with a $47.5 million
endowment. It offered matching funds to community
foundations across the state if they created boards of
youths to make the grants.
Other foundations have replicated the Kellogg model. Now
more than 350 similar programs, including some offered as
high school courses, exist in more than 30 states and
Many foundation donors have an eye toward the increasing
numbers of nonprofit board members who will soon retire,
says Mr. Orosz, who was instrumental in developing the
Kellogg youth project. And as baby boomers retire during the
next few decades, they will transfer to young people some
$30 trillion, the largest intergenerational transfer of
wealth in American history, says Robert Avery, a senior
economist at the Federal Reserve.
But the bang is not just in the bucks. Teen grantmaking
helps teach participants important skills. During the recent
meeting with the "Rivers Givers" - as they call themselves -
the teens dissected budget proposals and revealed their
findings from carefully scrutinized site visits.
"The staff seemed totally disorganized," Kelsey Clark says
of one charity, "and [one staff member] even said the money
might go toward his own salary!" (On paper, the budget
proposal indicated otherwise.)
Later in the meeting, Alix Parkinson, lone dissenter of the
plan to divide the money between two charities instead of
three, delivered a voice-quivering pitch: "But every bit of
The majority wouldn't budge. "We don't want to give
watered-down grants," replied Christian Clifford.
Teen grantmakers have given money to everything from
teen-pregnancy forums to service projects for kids in
homeless shelters to youth-run magazines. Likewise, the
teenagers involved are a diverse bunch.
"We've had former gang members and dropouts serving on our
youth board," says Tiffany Hill, program officer of the
Community Foundation of Silicon Valley (CFSV), which aims to
help at-risk kids.
Nancy DeNize was one such kid. By the time she entered high
school, the San Jose, Calif., teen was a self-described
"straight F student and a danger to humanity." The only
"volunteering" she did was 50 hours of required community
service at a local library. "My parents wouldn't even trust
me with $10," she jokes.
But now she says she gets all A's and credits her
transformation, in part, to the Youth in Philanthropy
Program she volunteers at through the CFSV. "All of a sudden
adults started trusting me," she says, "and it felt really
good to do something to improve my community and show that
kids can and want to make a difference."
As a result of her experience, she continues to volunteer at
the local library well past her obligation. And she hopes to
further her involvement by "serving on a nonprofit board and
helping other Latina girls to turn around."
Youth philanthropy has its share of critics. "Some say kids
don't have mature enough judgment to make grants, [or] that
the adults involved are too controlling," says Orosz. Youth
board decisions are usually approved by adults - "but there
have only been a handful of cases where they've overruled
the kids," he adds.
Of course, no one yet knows if many of today's young
philanthropists will end up on nonprofit boards or donate
time and treasure to charities later. Nor do charity
professionals know the long-term benefits of the youths'
But the programs are already having a profound effect on
some. Witness Kari Pardoe, a recent college grad from
Marshall, Mich. Her plans to take over the family
office-supply business were derailed several years ago - on
the day she and fellow youth philanthropists hand-delivered
a $500 grant to a needy family.
Today, Ms. Pardoe is in graduate school studying nonprofit
administration. She has given away more than $100,000
through teen philanthropy programs, served on several
nonprofit boards, and even helped pass legislation in
Michigan to lower the age requirements of voting nonprofit
board members from 18 to 16. "I just love the feeling I get
when I have made a difference in someone's life," she
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