Future Leaders

March 2021 View more

Tatum Smith sorts crayons for SCARCE.

A group of students with a heart for service is making a big difference in the Fox Valley area. Through Youth Engagement in Philanthropy (cffrv.org/yep), high school students fundraise, research, and allocate $25,000 to youth-related nonprofit programs. Offering valuable leadership and philanthropic opportunities, this unique program is empowering the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

Now in its second year, YEP is administered by the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley. “The program gives students the opportunity to fund ideas which directly impact and inspire their community,” explains Julie Christman, president and CEO of CFFRV. “We make sure they’re exposed to a wide range of what is available in the community and different ways they can make a difference.”

The program’s overall goal is to give students valuable insight into nonprofit leadership. “[Participants] get a well-rounded view of philanthropy. They see that they can directly impact their community and grow more confident in their leadership abilities,” says Cathy Schwieger, director of grant making. “They can do big things in the community with this money. I think it’s even more special that it’s youth helping other youth.”

Terrell Johnson

Arleth Rodriguez, an East Aurora High School senior, agrees: “Being in this program has really helped my leadership abilities. Before YEP, I was hesitant to step into leadership positions, but now I know I’m capable. I have grown so much as a person because of this experience.”

High school students in Kendall County, Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles can apply online for the program in the spring. Once the group of 25 is selected, they participate in monthly business meetings, a variety of service projects, and raise funds toward their $25,000 goal. When the grant application window closes, students begin researching and learning more about the nonprofits. Dividing into small groups, they narrow down potential recipients and present their recommendations to the group as a whole. They then navigate the challenges of collaboration as they work together to decide which nonprofits will receive funding.

Cole Hemmes, a Batavia High School senior, points out: “Everyone has their own reasons why they joined this program, and those reasons reflect back on which organizations they want to support. It’s a difficult situation to navigate because you want to be thoughtful to everyone’s opinion, but you also want to make sure that a variety of applicants are funded.” Students then present their recommendations to the CFFRV Board and funds are allocated to the chosen organizations.

“It’s a unique opportunity for youth,” Christman says. “These students are our future nonprofit leaders. Even if they don’t directly work for a nonprofit, we hope they will one day serve on a nonprofit board.”

Photos by Thomas J. King