This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.
Think back to high school. Senior year, let’s say. How did you spend the Sunday after your prom? Let me go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t spent in a conference room, debating other high schoolers about which of 23 grant applicants would receive a total of $10,000 in grants.
But that’s exactly what several members of Teens for Tomorrow (T4T) did on the first Sunday in May – along with their peers who were lucky enough not to have prom the night before. They’d worked toward making these grant decisions all year, and they weren’t going to miss it even if they had just come from breakfast with sparkly shoes in their bags and up-dos still in their hair.
Each September, 35 Quad City high schoolers gather at the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend to learn to be grantmakers and philanthropists. Well, first they learn to say the word, “philanthropist.” (It’s a tongue twister!) Then they move on to community assessment – what do they think are our community’s most important needs? How can they learn more about those areas? Guest speakers and discussions broaden perspectives. T4T Member Peter says, “I have always been aware that the Quad Cities is not perfect, but I thought that we didn't have to deal with many common problems of bigger cities. I was wrong. T4T showed me that these problems do exist, and that I can do something about it.”
Next, they develop grant criteria and an application. This year they decided they’d evaluate grants based on six criteria, among them project impact, community support, and what we called “grantsmanship” – did they include all requested information and use proper spelling and grammar?
When the grant applications come in, small groups of T4T Members fan out throughout the Quad Cities to do site visits. “T4T has opened my eyes to a huge community of not-for-profits. Knowing that we get to help groups like that is simply mind-blowing. Often, as teenagers, we can start to feel insignificant because of how much the adults around us are capable of, but through T4T we are touching lives, and that makes all the difference,” says Grace.
So that brings us back to Sunday – grant decisions! This social worker’s heart swelled as they debated whether projects were sustainable, would have broad community impact, and would reach vulnerable populations. When one Member referenced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I couldn’t hide my goofy, proud grin.
Although this is the end of the year, we’re not letting them go! Several T4T graduates have joined our grants panels, using the skills and knowledge they’ve gained. Through T4T, the CFGRB is shaping our community’s next generation of philanthropists. T4T Member Libby says, “Because of T4T, I have grown as a person. Before, I knew very little about what it meant to be a philanthropist or what a nonprofit organization really was. Now, I believe investing in the community is an important goal to achieve and I'm here to support the mission.”
Kelly Thompson is Director of Programs for the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend and lucky enough to be the staff manager of the Teens for Tomorrow youth philanthropy program. Kelly has ten years of experience in social services and not-for-profit administration, primarily in child welfare, housing, and homelessness. She earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Iowa and her Bachelors in Sociology from Augustana College.