On April 6, students in the Youth Advisory Council of Truman Heartland Community Foundation were once again out doing their part to feed the hungry in our community.

Students from the 13 participating high schools were at four Hy-Vee locations in Eastern Jackson County from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through their efforts and the generosity of people in our community, we estimate that our Youth Advisory Council students collected more than 40,000 food items and personal hygiene items for the Community Services League, Lee’s Summit Social Services and the Raytown Emergency Assistance Program.

We are very proud of the students in our Youth Advisory Council program, one of the only opportunities for high school students from across the region to come together to work as a team to benefit the community. Any other time students from different high schools come together it’s about competition, not community building.

Students see the value in this program, and membership continues to grow. Starting with just 12 students in 1998 to nearly 190 participants this year. We are forever grateful to Henri Goettel, the Youth Advisory Council volunteer adult facilitator, who has led this program since its inception. Henri is a great mentor for our students, and it is clearly a labor of love. Henri is the “secret sauce” that makes this program a success.

Very soon we will be celebrating with our graduating advisory council students, as they prepare for high school graduation and the future. At our annual Senior Recognition Dinner, attended by our board and the parents of Youth Advisory Council students, these graduating students share their experiences. It is always inspiring to hear what they have learned about philanthropy and life as a result of their participation in Youth Advisory Council and the impact it has made on them.

At the same time, we are welcoming new students to the program. Prospective students and their parents recently attended orientation to learn more about the “school of philanthropy” at Truman Heartland. And in this school, there is no summer break. In fact, advisory council students will be very busy this summer assisting our grants committee. They review grant proposals from nonprofits seeking support through our competitive grants process, make on-site visits and then share their experience with our grants committee. Additionally, they will award grants to youth-serving nonprofits from their self-fundraised endowment fund. We greatly value their perspective and contributions to our annual grants program.

At your community foundation, we are grateful for the opportunity to educate and engage our students in fundraising, grantmaking and volunteering through our Youth Advisory Council program, helping these future community leaders see the value of coming together for a purpose greater than themselves and helping build community.

Phil Hanson is the president and CEO of the Truman Heartland Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity committed to improving the communities in and around Eastern Jackson County.