On a cold night in November, squirreled away in a cabin in a wooded area of Indiana, a unique group of 11 University and high school students brainstormed into the wee hours about who should get, what for them, was an astonishing amount of money. Given $15,000 and the responsibility of distributing it, they debated which of nine social service agencies were the most deserving.
It was hardly the stuff of youthful living. But this group was anything but typical. The first class of students to study philanthropy as part of the summer service internship program, this group took their charge to heart, attending a weekly class, writing a request for proposals and analyzing nine applications.
The nine applicants sought far more than the $15,000 available, making the task of choosing the most deserving proposals that much harder.
“All the programs we looked at were worthwhile,” says Melissa Mosko, a senior. “We had to evaluate what we thought was going to have the biggest impact and what specific community would benefit.”
The youth philanthropy program married the study of philanthropy to the University’s summer services program. The six students studying philanthropy were matched with five high school students, forming the Greater Cincinnati Youth Grantmaking Council.
The students studied the proposals, visited the agencies and talked to the applicants. Then they went to Indiana to make their decisions, only to discover that each member had personal interests that made compromise difficult. In the end, they agreed on four partnerships that received a total of $14,625.
The decision-making process was the most important educational tool, says Gene Beaupré, who directed the philanthropy program. “These students are not just doing philanthropy. They’re actively engaged in the community,” Beaupré says. “The most profound impact here is in the end, these students are challenged to make decisions about how they want to use these resources and are empowered, which is a great incentive to learning. It places them in positions of leadership they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
The greatest challenge, he says, was not deciding who received the money, but who didn’t.
“I watched them wrestle with what their role was and the kinds of questions you deal with as active citizens taking leadership positions in your community. They had to say no to five proposals—people who worked hard together.”
Mosko says their overarching criteria were for projects that provide continuous learning where the participants learn by doing and by studying what happens afterward.
The top grant winner was the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and Mother of Mercy High School, which won $5,000 for a project to break down the stereotypes that perpetuate homelessness. They plan to create a book based on interviews with homeless and formerly homeless people that will be used in educational packets and at local schools.
The other winners were:
Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center and Ursuline Academy, $4,600 for a project to created a resource book for Cincinnati-area Hispanic families to help their integration into U.S. culture.
Urban Appalachian Council and St. Xavier High School, $3,000 for a project using drama to highlight and honor the Appalachian culture.
Peaslee Neighborhood Center and Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, $2,025 for a program to develop science fair projects for the children of the Peaslee after-school program.
A two-year project to introduce more students to philanthropy was added this spring, with a competition to award grant money to four classes. Winning faculty members in music, finance, counseling and African-American history added a philanthropy component to their courses and received $4,000 to invest.
Beaupré expects the program to continue, though the grants that made it possible haven’t all been renewed. The summer service learning internship program and the philanthropy project, spearheaded by philanthropist Roger Grein, were funded through a variety of sources, including The Mayerson Foundation, Knowledge Works Foundation, Xavier, other private and corporate donors, and the Ohio Community, Higher Education and School Partnerships initiative.