Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.