By Kelly Thompson, LMSW
Director of Programs, Community Foundation of the Great River Bend
As we look to the future, we at CFGRB have been reflecting on the heroes in our community who motivate us every day. For me, the first people that come to mind are the members of Teens for Tomorrow . These high schoolers are passionate, driven, and idealistic as they learn about our Quad Cities community, explore its assets and needs, and make tough decisions to issue $10,000 in grants each year. After every one of their monthly meetings this year, their energy and enthusiasm for giving back leaves me refreshed and optimistic about our community’s future.
Last year I told you about what T4T does and how they make grant decisions. Today I want to tell you about the journey T4T members take and what it means for them.
Because I don’t have time or space to tell you about every T4T member – believe me, I could go on about them all day! – I’ll use Grace as an example. Grace joined T4T in 2013 as a high school junior. She was, in her words, “excited, but also scared out of my wits.” As a self-described “shy and reserved” person, she worried as she walked into the first meeting. “Questions were running through my head like: What if no one likes me? What if I have to sit alone? What if I can’t get up the guts to talk? My fears were put to rest, however, when I found myself seated among a group of impressive, mature, driven young individuals.”
Grace certainly got up the guts to talk. At the end of her first year, she strongly and maturely advocated for the grants she wanted to fund during the deliberations. This year she took on several leadership roles as a T4T Advisor, offering guidance to new members. And this May, her growth was even more obvious. After congratulating our graduating seniors, I asked if any of them had some words of wisdom to share with the group. Grace’s hand shot up immediately, and she rose to address her peers with an impromptu encouragement to always try new things and never close yourself off to opportunities, because you never know what your future will bring.
At the Community Foundation, we believe that our community works best when everyone’s voice is heard. That is one reason that youth philanthropy matters to us – when young people in our community feel heard and valued, they are great resources now and will be great citizens here in the future. But don’t take my word for it – let Grace tell you:
“Adolescents often find themselves feeling useless when it comes to changing the world. At some point in our lives, we realize that things don’t have to stay the way they are, but we enter into a state of cognitive dissonance because we ourselves know that there is an issue, but don’t possess the means to do something about it. What is wonderful about T4T? Let me tell you. We feel powerful. We feel powerful in the knowledge that we mean something. We feel powerful because we make lives better. We feel powerful because we accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams: feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, comforting the downtrodden, all because we learn to listen to not-for-profits, and do something about what is wrong in the world.”
If you know a young person who would love to make a difference in the world like Grace and all the members of T4T, encourage him or her to apply to join for the 2015-2016 school year! Applications are completed online and are due May 29, 2015. For details on how to apply, click here.
Kelly Thompson is Director of Programs for the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend and lucky enough to be the staff manager of the Teens for Tomorrow youth philanthropy program. Kelly has ten years of experience in social services and not-for-profit administration, primarily in child welfare, housing, and homelessness. She earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Iowa and her Bachelors in Sociology from Augustana College.
(upper left) Grace writing a grant check
(upper right) Grace presenting the check to Karen Aumiller at the Augustana College Center for Speech, Language, and Hearing
(lower left) Students at Rock Island Academy accept a check for Ballet Quad Cities to allow their DREAMS dance program to continue
(lower right) Teens for Tomorrow members present a grant to the WQPT First Book Club