Young Leaders Provide Glimpse Into Our Community’s Future

Rande Richardson

“It wasn’t until I got into Youth Philanthropy Council that I saw the community is as a whole and what the needs are. It opened my eyes not only in Jefferson County and Watertown, but to Lewis County and St. Lawrence County. I think it taught me great life skills and the lessons that I’ve learned will be with me for a long time to come. Those values that YPC has instilled in me will carry on.” — Marcus Lavarnway, Youth Philanthropy Council alumnus 


Studies show that involvement as a youth is a significant factor influencing how adult volunteers and donors behave. This follows an approach of moving away from viewing youths as problems to be solved to seeing young people as resources to engage in community development. In this way, they can contribute more meaningfully to their own growth as leaders and to society in general. Students benefit from exploring community issues, the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, and opportunities available for volunteering. They gain knowledge that is not as easily offered in the traditional school setting. This includes interpersonal problem solving, consensus building, diplomacy, confident, productive and respectful disagreement and higher-level communication and networking skills. 

    The Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC) became a pilot project of the Community Foundation in 2010. In nine years, high school students have been entrusted with grantmaking resources and empowered with the responsibility of properly stewarding gifts from generous annual donors combined with matching gifts from major sponsors Watertown Savings Bank and the Renzi Foodservice Charitable Foundation. Their work also led to engagement of middle school students through the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge. The results are proving the wisdom of asking our youth for their input. 

    Former YPC members recently reflected upon their experiences as they related to their time in college and as they advance their careers and personal lives. Each alumnus cited YPC as their most transformative high school experience. Others said the program helped them “find their place” in the community and become connected with adults and organizations in meaningful ways. They all agreed that it caused them to seek out opportunities to serve. They now see community service as a fundamental part of a fulfilling life. (To hear their full comments, visit www.nnycpodcast.com). 

    This year’s YPC is preparing to make its $20,000 in grant recommendations. Nonprofit organizations should take note of some emerging trends of this generation:  

  • They take very seriously the responsibility of being entrusted with other people’s money.  
  • They prefer to provide support for the heart of a program, project or initiative. 
  • They are not inclined to offer help unless they are confident in the organization’s ability to do what they say they will do. They expect accountability and good stewardship. 
  • They don’t allow geographic “boundaries” to get in the way of supporting something worthwhile.
  • Despite “youth” in its name, YPC members see their mission and responsibility as transcending programs that exclusively benefit young people. 
  • They understand the balance between supporting basic human needs with enriching the quality of life. 
  • They demonstrate an ability to remain assertive while respecting, valuing and appreciating opposing points of view.
  • They do not want to be underestimated or marginalized.

Youth philanthropy is, at the broadest level, passionate involvement of young adults giving of their time, talent and treasure in support of the common good, just as philanthropy is itself. The added ingredient we can all provide is the energy, excitement and spark that will continue to nurture the types of communities where all of our lives will be enriched. This helps us all to better answer the question: “What do I care about?” 

    More importantly, we affirm that we must have a desire, commitment and will to integrate caring more deliberately into our daily lives. There should be no doubt that we all benefit from a community and a world where authentic caring, respect and stewardship is valued, expected, affirmed, and non-negotiable. By learning from each other, we help ensure that the leadership of the past is linked to the leadership of the future.