A small group of ETHS students, all participants in Y.O.U.’s (Youth and Opportunity United) after-school program have had a potent taste of civic engagement this spring. As part of an eight-week collaboration with Northwestern University students, the Y.O.U. kids learned about philanthropy, community development, and social justice – admittedly not run-of-the-mill topics on the minds of most teens. When the group of ETHS teenagers opted to be part of a pilot philanthropy education program with a Northwestern start-up called Allow Good, the Y.O.U. kids probably had no idea that they could become change-makers in their own community.
In the fall of 2015, student-run Allow Good Northwestern became a program under the umbrella of the seven year-old similarly named Evanston not-for-profit, Allowance for Good. When four NU students were inspired by the global philanthropy course they took during a two year Civic Engagement Certificate Program, they modeled their own initiative after it. The four NU entrepreneurs – Fannie Koltun, Matt Herndon, Imani Wilson, and Rachel Sepulveda – collaborated with a similar group from the University of Chicago; and together both campus groups applied for and received $10,000 grants to be split equally between the two chapters of Allow Good. Each group’s mission is to empower high school kids to make their own communities better.
Armed with the monetary award from the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University, the four NU students approached ETHS with a proposal. Through an eight week course, they sought to educate high school kids about what effective philanthropy looks like and to engage students to become catalysts for change in their own community.
ETHS administrators agreed to a pilot program, and the four NU students got busy recruiting and training their peers to be part of the newly hatched program. A few months ago, the NU students started facilitating the Allow Good curriculum at Niles North High School in Skokie and in the Y.O.U. after-school program at ETHS. Y.O.U. students who signed on learned some exciting news: at the end of the 2 month-long course, Allow Good was going to use its Sillerman Center prize money to support the $1,000 grants that each high school class would be awarding to a worthy organization or project of their choice.
Alex Grinage, an ETHS junior participating in the Allow Good program, explained that the early sessions focused on what philanthropy is. “We learned that charity is different from philanthropy, that charity is like putting a band-aide on something but not really curing it for good,” he said, “and philanthropy is a long-term solution to a problem, not a quick fix.” In the class the ETHS students discussed issues close to their hearts and how they’d like the world to change. They learned how donors decide which organizations and causes to support, and they learned to carefully read mission statements.
“The kids in our Y.O.U. group started making a list of organizations we really liked, ones that would make where we live a better place,” Alex said. “The list grew big, so then we voted for the eight we liked best. The eight also had to fit the criteria we came up with.” Alex continued, “We next narrowed the list to three [organizations] and then had to learn more. We read their website information and listened to the panel of people that came to speak. And we read the proposal sheets each of them brought.”
The ETHS group awarded the $1,000 grant to the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy. The Moran Center (formerly the Evanston Community Defender Office) is an organization that has been providing low-income Evanston youths and their families integrated legal and social work services for more than 30 years. The nonprofit’s mission, track record, small but dedicated staff, and collaborative work with other community organizations impressed the ETHS grant-makers.
On May 18, the Y.O.U. teens, their two Allow Good NU teachers, two representatives from the Moran Center, and Allowance for Good’s founder and director convened at ETHS for an official award ceremony.
Allow Good, like all sustainable nonprofits, is putting down roots for the future. The four Northwestern founders may be moving on with their studies and careers, but they are recruiting more NU students to assume leadership roles, and they have been awarded another monetary grant for next year. Possibly philanthropy and civic engagement will become part of some regular classes next year at ETHS.