What’s the story? For 17 years, the Truman Heartland Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council has assisted in determining how funds are dispersed among non-profit organizations. Each participating Eastern Jackson County school has its own investment fund that generally grows over time and is given to non-profit organizations.
Why does it matter? The program prepares youth to become philanthropists in the future and teaches them how to invest money and grow an endowment fund to help charities in local communities. This affects how much money non-profit organizations such as Hope House and the Blue Springs Family YMCA receive.
Since 1982, the Truman Heartland Community Foundation has been collecting donations from philanthropists in the Eastern Jackson County to disperse among non-profit organizations and charities in the area.
Although the foundation has an advisory board that decides how much money each nonprofit receives, it sometimes gets a little bit of help.
Enter the Youth Advisory Council.
The council includes 160-plus high school students from around Eastern Jackson County, and they get hands-on experience with fundraising, volunteering and grant making.
The students have helped raise money for nonprofits by selling tickets to an event called Strike in the Night, the annual YAC fundraiser and by collecting food donations for social service organizations.
Each school has its own endowment fund in which the students raise money for. They decide where the money is invested and how much money goes to each non-profit from their respective funds. They also help decide where funds donated to the foundation should go.
‘This is like our school of philanthropy,” foundation president and CEO Phil Hanson said. “They help us make better decisions about grants that come out of our annual community grants cycle. Some of this money is left to us through our donor’s estate gifts.
“There’s a 5 percent spending policy (on each school’s endowment fund). So 20 years down the line, when it’s generating that 5 percent, it’s going to have the same buying power as what it’s putting out today. They built that up over the years and the total (among all endowment funds) has grown to about $60,000.”
The foundation has a competitive grant process in which each non-profit applies for a grant via a proposal. If it’s a program serving youth, the Youth Advisory Council is assigned to that proposal and a specific school will do a site visit with that organization.
The students of that school then present their opinion to the foundation’s grant committee.
“The adults truly value what these students have to say,” Hanson said. “I’ve seen it really impact the decision making of the group. In some cases the adults would say, ‘This is a great program and it’s wonderful.’ And the kids come in and say, ‘Well, here were our concerns and here’s what questions we had and something like this was tried at our school. And here were some of the challenges, so we’re not sure about that one.’
“It really is valuable for us that they’re engaged.”
Blue Springs South senior Danielle Hotalling is one of those students contributing to the council.
She said the council has monthly meetings, and it goes through the process of deciding which non-profits should receive grants in the summer. Each school is assigned two grants each year.
“We schedule a site visit and look at the different organizations that we’re thinking about giving money to,” Hotalling said. Then they ask questions and get a feel how the organization is run.
“Each school, at the meeting, will present pros and cons of an organization and what they could improve on. Generally, each school will make a recommendation. We come to a consensus and each school will vote on what amount they think they should give. We decide (if an individual nonprofit gets) no funding, partial funding or full funding,” she said.
At the September meeting, the final decisions will be made on where the students want the money from their endowment funds to go.
Hotalling personally will suggest the funds from South go to the Rainbow Center.
“It is going to be cool to hear where some of the money from other schools is going,” she said. “I am going to advocate for the Rainbow Center. I’ve done some service work there, so I am a little biased there. We’re also going to do a recap over what we’ve been presenting over the summer.”
For Hotalling, being a part of the council has been worthwhile and has been something that she’s thoroughly enjoyed.
“We actually have a voice in the community,” she said.