On Saturday, April 21, Truman Heartland Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council held its annual “Fill Those Trucks” Food Drive. For the last five years the members of our now 160-plus Youth Advisory Council have contributed their energy to tackle the issue of hunger in our communities by organizing this food drive to benefit local non-profits.

Once again with the help and support of people in our communities, our students were able to collect more than 40,000 nonperishable food and personal hygiene items for Community Services League, Lee’s Summit Social Services and Raytown Emergency Assistance Program.

I had the privilege of working alongside some of our students from Raytown and Raytown South high schools for a few hours last Saturday at the Hy-Vee on Missouri 350. We are continually impressed by the generosity of people in the community. For example, a woman coming out of the store placed three of her four bags of groceries in the donation cart. She stated she had come in for a loaf of bread, which was the only item in the fourth bag that she took home. And then she handed the student a bag from the bakery containing doughnuts for the students to eat. What a simple yet powerful testimony to the generosity of people in our community.

I am continually impressed and inspired by our YAC students, who continue to do good in the world where they see it is needed. It is great to see teams of students from our area high schools come together for a common goal. Typically, when these schools come together, it’s focused on competition. Our program gives them a rare opportunity to work together as one big community team.

The Youth Advisory Council was launched in 1998 by fund holder and community volunteer, Henri Goettel. She was contacted that year by THCF board president Barbara Potts about obtaining a teen perspective on youth-serving grant applications the Foundation was receiving. YAC began with just 12 students; today there are more than 160 students representing 13 high schools in Eastern Jackson County. In addition, YAC now has its own endowed fund, launched in 2001, which now has nearly $80,000 and generates income each year for their grantmaking. And the money in this fund was raised by the YAC students through their annual fundraising event.

What started as an idea of Potts (former mayor of Independence) has grown into a movement among the youth in our communities. These students are helping shape the decisions and conversations surrounding the needs in our communities and are an integral part in the work THCF does. These students are among some of the most passionate philanthropic individuals I have had the pleasure of working with. And this program would not be possible without the passion and commitment of Henri Goettel. She is an awesome person and volunteer, extraordinaire in my book.

I made a resolution for this year in my January column to look for what unites us as a community instead of focusing on what divides us. I believe the future of our communities looks brighter than ever, and it is the students in YAC, our donors, volunteers, and supporters in the community who make that possible. In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from Goettel, that I hope will inspire you to get involved as so many of our communities’ students have:

"It lights the students’ fire to become the next generation of philanthropists."

– Phil Hanson is president and CEO of the Truman Heartland Community Foundation, based in Independence.