Growing Young Philanthropists: Stories of Kids Making a DifferenceOz Spies
Young Philanthropists Foundation helps kids and their families give back to their communities and make the world a better place. Their programs include hosting family volunteer days, in which families with kids of all ages come together to make a difference, and the Penny Harvest, a service-learning and leadership project that lets school-aged children provide dollars and time to great nonprofits that they choose, and makes good use of all those pennies accumulating in the couch cushions.
Alexis Boian, a busy mama of two, founded Young Philanthropists Foundation (YPF) to help others work for the greater good, as she does each day. She took some time to share the story of YPF’s founding, and some of the inspiring projects that families and
What inspired you to start Young Philanthropists Foundation?
I was inspired to start the Young Philanthropists Foundation after my experience with September 11. I was living in New York at the time and watched the Twin Towers come down from my balcony in Brooklyn. From there I started a something called the September 11 Quilt Project, which was a giant American flag made of individually designed squares of cloth that came from all over the world. Many of the panels came from children. The flag toured the country and is now part of the archives of the Colorado Historical Society. The experience of starting and running that project revealed so much to me about the capacity of young people to give back, and taught me about who I am and what I have to give back. It was truly transformational and inspired me to want to help give voice to our youngest citizens and allow them to be a part of the solutions to the issues facing our world today.
What’s one of the best family volunteer projects you’ve seen?
One of my favorite family volunteer projects we’ve done was in partnership with the Stinkbug Project. The Stinkbug Project was started by a little girl who is a cancer survivor. When she was going through chemo, which she called “the stinkbug”, she got a dog, which really helped her and her family through the process. When she recovered she wanted to help other families with children who have life-threatening illness by providing companion dogs. She started a nonprofit to bake and sell dog biscuits.
The proceeds go to fund the purchase and training of the dogs at a women’s correctional facility. Last year, YPF did a family baking day where parents and children pre-sold enough biscuits to fund two dogs. They spent a day making the biscuits, bagging them and delivering them to their friends and family. It was such a simple and nice way to engage families in meaningful work to benefit the greater good.
What can kids gain from service learning and philanthropy, like the Penny Harvest project?
What I love most about Penny Harvest is how it changes the kids’ perspectives on who they are and what they are capable of. To me the heart of philanthropy is about self-discovery. Going through the process of figuring out what you care about and what resources you have to help solve a problem is a very empowering experience for kids and adults alike. I’ve seen this time and again through Penny Harvest. Whether it’s the shy girl who comes out of her shell and goes on to win student body president, or the child living in poverty who finds the courage to share her story and ask for help, the kids who participate in Penny Harvest are beautiful examples of what makes philanthropy such a unique and personal experience for everyone.
Can you share a story of a youth-led project that you thought was especially inspiring?
One of the standout projects I’ve seen in my years doing Penny Harvest came from Lowry Elementary School in Denver. What many people don’t know about Lowry is that is has the highest population of homeless students in the Denver Public Schools system. This is because the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless runs two transitional housing shelters on the Lowry property. So you have million dollar homes, homeless shelters, and everything in between. The Penny Harvest student leaders at Lowry are a reflection of this diversity. One year they were trying to decide how to spend their grant budget when two students stood up and shared with the group that they were experiencing homelessness and that they were living in one of the shelters. They shared that what they really needed was a quiet place that was just for kids where they could study, read, and be away from the noise and hubbub of shelter. This came as a surprise to their classmates, certainly, but did not deter them. They agreed to use their grant money to purchase bean bag chairs, rugs, lamps and bookshelves. They also held a book drive. After that the kids, led by those living in the shelter, marched over and spent the day building a kids’ library. The library has become a valuable community asset for the shelter. The senior center send volunteers over to work with the kids, and there is a check out and reward system in place. In fact, it worked so well that the students decided to do it the next year for Lowry’s other shelter.
What an amazing story!
What’s the best way for parents of young children to start teaching their children to give and make a difference?
The first place children learn to give back is at home, by watching their parents, so let them see what you do! It is never too early to begin including your children in your good works. Whether you bring them along on volunteer projects, or involve them in where and how you make donations, remember to make philanthropy and giving a part of your conversations and actions. Susan Crites Price has written a book called “The Giving Family” that offers a lot of great ideas about how to involve your whole family in the process of giving back.
Photos courtesy of Young Philanthropists Foundation