Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships…love or the lack of it. A great gift of any adult to a child is to love what you do in front of them. Let them catch the attitude.” –Fred Rogers


American treasure, children’s television icon and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, is being honored with documentaries and on postage stamps in this year when he would have turned 90 and as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood commemorates its 50th anniversary. Mister Rogers showed us all how a little compassion, kindness and love can make a world of difference in every neighborhood.

    Recently, the Northern New York Community Foundation, in partnership with Stage Notes, announced the results of the first “Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge.” This competition was an invitation for area middle school students to talk about the things they love about their community. They were competing to award a total of $10,000 to area charitable organizations. Whether they realized it or not, they were really exploring, thinking, and reflecting on the importance of love of community, love of the place where they live, and making it better for them and their neighbors.

    What does an ideal community look like through the eyes of our young people? Of the 62 essays submitted from 9 school districts, there were several common themes including love, kindness, joy, caring, connecting, safety, support, helping, togetherness, diversity, belonging, neighbors, beauty, happiness, betterment, belonging, sharing and respect. These young adults also recognized that it takes all different types of organizations to help create and sustain their best vision of their community as they nominated charities that they felt help supported their love of community.

    These young minds demonstrated an awareness that quality of life includes addressing the most basic of needs as well as the enhancement of quality of life. Sackets Harbor Central School student Adelyne Jareo, wrote an essay that won a $1,000 grant for Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown. “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you,” she said. “Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible.” I can assure you that if you were able to read every essay submitted, you would be inspired.

    Other organizations receiving grants include: Croghan Free Library, Lewis County Humane Society, Credo Community Center, Jefferson County SPCA, Carthage YMCA, Orchestra of Northern New York, Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service, PIVOT, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Children’s Miracle Network, Croghan Volunteer Fire Department, Historical Association of South Jefferson, Cape Vincent Community Library, Clayton Figure Skating Club, Clayton Youth Commission, Hawn Memorial Library, Relay for Life of Jefferson County, and Thousands Islands Area Habitat for Humanity.

    As generational shifts continue, programs like this not only provide insight into how those who will inherit our communities think, they also are a proactive way to instill concepts of civic engagement and nurture the importance of giving of oneself to maintain a vibrant community. It is easy at times to cast doubt upon our community’s future. Indeed, recent generations relate differently, communicate in new ways and find relevancy in contrast to their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

    I asked my 14-year-old son if he knew who Mister Rogers was. He did not. While the 1970’s me was stunned, I suspect if he watched the first broadcast of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, the messages delivered would apply even more today. We all must find ways to continue to do all we can to pass along to our community’s children an affirmation of love. Our world needs it now more than ever. Every participant in the inaugural Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge gives us all reason to be hopeful and confident.

                We must not stop there. We must look for all the ways to present positive role models for our children and introducing them to ways to make a difference in expressions that are meaningful to them. We must show them how much we love our community. We must encourage and challenge them to carry the torch forward.  With your help, the Community Foundation will remain vigilant in providing pathways that will make all of our neighborhoods, and the organizations that enhance them, better. Our greatest gift to those who have come before us is to make sure those who come after see our example and love it enough to “catch” the attitude to perpetuate it.

rande richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.