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High school students lead philanthropy program

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February 2, 2011

By David Eck

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — Sometimes it takes a lifetime for people to realize the joys and challenges that come from philanthropy, but a group of students at Mount Notre Dame High School is already experiencing them.

The school’s Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC) enables students to donate money to non-profit organizations. This year the MND program will give away three grants of approximately $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000. Reading businessman Roger Grein and retired executive Denny Doyle provide much of the funding for the effort, said Todd Forman, a Mount Notre Dame teacher who oversees the initiative, now in its sixth year at the school. Students also raise money themselves with a coffee shop. Grant amounts vary from year to year, and the amount of money available may change in the future.

Mt. Notre Dame students
Mount Notre Dame students Carolyn Huhn, left, and Sarah Menke do research for the school’s Youth Philanthropy Council. (Courtesy Photo)

There are more than 50 Mount Notre Dame students involved in the program this school year. Breaking up into subgroups, they research and solicit agencies for potential grants, typically avoiding organizations that have previously received YPC funding or are already affiliated with school. This year the agencies work in various areas, including disease research, support for veterans and families, the disadvantaged and needy, child advocacy, youth education, animal rights and assistance for those facing medical issues. The number of subgroups changes each year depending on the number of students in the program.

The students review the agencies’ grant requests, taking into account such things as need, use of the requested funds and the impact the grants would make. The goal is to use the money to its fullest potential.

“We want to find agencies where our money is going to make a direct impact,” said Mindy Reed, a senior at Mount Notre Dame who is in her third year of YPC. “We want to see the good that our money is doing.”   

The YPC subgroups have received funding requests from nearly 40 agencies this year. The agencies provided detailed proposals, including information on their mission, budget and clients. Some also included videos, brochures, newsletters and annual reports.

After reviewing the material for their specific agencies, each subgroup selects two or three agencies to visit and then recommends an agency to fund to the entire council. The council selects three finalists and those agencies give presentations to the group. The grants are awarded at a dinner each spring. In 2010 grants were awarded to the Council of Child Abuse, ProKIDS and St. Aloysius Orphanage.

The program gives students hands-on experience in philanthropy, while also putting them in a professional setting.

“It’s helped me to work with people older than me, and they have to take me seriously,” said Erin Grinsted, a Mount Notre Dame junior. “The people you talk to, they come from every walk of life. The people who are running these agencies are [extremely] selfless.”

Visiting the agencies helps the students realize that supporting an organization doesn’t benefit just one person but creates a chain effect that spreads to others in need. At the same time, the young women learn that  having limited resources makes for tough decisions when eliminating agencies for funding.

“It’s really difficult and sometimes we have to go to the cause that really speaks to us the most,” Reed said. “That’s really  the most difficult part of the whole process, knowing that we have the power to turn someone down. We really debate it a lot.”

Among the things the students look for in agencies is low overhead. The students also go through an agency’s itemized report to determine how the money would be used, Reed said.

Mt. Notre Dame students
Members of the Youth Philanthropy Council research agencies for potential funding. From left, Meghan Grinsted, Lauren Lacey, Molly Hildebrandt and Abbie Day. (Courtesy photo)

Brynne Coletti, who founded the non-profit Kenzie’s Closet in Cincinnati to provide prom dresses to high school girls who can’t afford them and has been affiliated with Mount Notre Dame, said the lessons students learn in YPC mirror what goes on in real life. Coletti is also on the board of the Farmer Family Foundation.

“When you sit on a foundation, you want to give money to everybody. You just don’t have enough to do that,” Coletti said. “You also want to make sure the money you give is being used properly and is going to make a difference. These kids are learning to give of themselves and that’s huge.”

In addition to running the MND program, Forman and Grein have initiated an effort to bring the concept to other schools. There are now seven additional Catholic high schools in the Cincinnati archdiocese with similar programs, along with several public schools.

Grein, an accountant, funds the citywide program with help from hundreds of smaller benefactors. A long-term goal is to further expand the program to more schools and develop an endowment through Magnified Giving, Grein’s non-profit organization, to provide ongoing funding, Forman said.

He admits participating in YPC is a long, time-consuming process, but says that the students at Mount Notre Dame are able to see the impact they can make on people who most benefit from their work.

“I think part of it is they just get a feeling of satisfaction,” Forman said. “This is more than just giving away money. It’s hearing inspirational stories.”

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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