OPINION

Local students listen, learn, work, lead

Jeff Fox
The Examiner

Philanthropy is not innate. We are not born with it, and children do not wake up one day and choose to be charitable any more than they wake up and decide to eat their green, leafy vegetables without complaint. Philanthropy is learned by modeling the charitable behavior of the caring adults in their lives, learning why it’s important to give back.  

Phil Hanson

The concept of youth philanthropy has really taken hold in the nonprofit sector since the early discussions of the concept in the late ‘80s. As children move into their teen years, they begin to develop a sense of society, social justice and self-purpose. They recognize they have a role to play in their community and understand they can have meaningful participation and impact. And when young people get involved with community service and giving at an early age, they tend to continue those charitable behaviors into adulthood. (Source: Kathryn A. Agard, “Learning to Give: Teaching Philanthropy K-12.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 2002.)  

The Truman Heartland Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council teaches local high school students how to engage in philanthropy. The program started in 1998 under the leadership of Henri Goettel, who served as the director of YAC until her retirement in in 2020. Hundreds of YAC students from a dozen area high schools come together for various activities centered on volunteering, grantmaking and leadership. Our “School of Philanthropy” as I often refer to YAC is unique. It’s the only program I know of in which students from area high schools come together when the focus is not competition (e.g. sports, forensics, debate, science bowl). Instead, their focus is on how they can work together to build a better community.  

YAC students provide genuine insight into the problems impacting children and teens in Eastern Jackson County. Through reviewing grant requests, nonprofit site visits and impact discussions, students learn how to actively listen, respect other people’s opinions, and view their community through a leadership lens. The input these student leaders provide to our grants committee is truly valued and enables us to make better decisions on how to allocate our grant resources. And through their annual fundraiser, our YAC students have built up their own endowed fund, which now has over $89,000. They solely make the decisions about grants to area nonprofits from the earnings of their fund. 

On April 10, YAC students organized an eight-hour food drive to help local food pantries meet increasing demands. The goal was to fill four box trucks with non-perishable food and household items. And although the day was cold, rainy and generally miserable, the weather did not dampen the students’ enthusiasm or the public’s charitable nature. At least 40,000 items were collected at area Hy-Vee locations and then distributed to THCF nonprofit partners: the Community Services League, the Raytown Emergency Assistance Program, and Lee’s Summit Social Services. Even in the pouring rain, the generous spirit of our YAC students shone.  

YAC students are active in their communities and are truly valued assets for our future, and tomorrow’s community leaders.  

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