Youth in Philanthropy projects growing in popularity

There's a new type of club popping up in high schools across the country, one where students learn the finer points of philanthropy.

There's a new type of club popping up in high schools across the country, one where students learn the finer points of philanthropy.

The Youth in Philanthropy project is a high school club that donates money to local charities in Portage La Prairie. There are more than a dozen here in Winnipeg, and several in rural Manitoba.

Arthur Meighen high school student Stephanie De Long is involved with her school's Youth in Philanthropy project, and instead of spending class breaks studying with friends, the 17-year-old will spend her break doing some last-minute research for her plan to improve the lives of others in her community, which she has to present to a group of her peers.

"It makes you feel really good. I mean you're helping charities help people and it's just a great feeling," says De Long.

But De Long and her peers are working with limited funds because they are operating on a grant that is eventually going to run out. So, they need to raise more money to build a permanent endowment fund and she says she knows how they can.

De Long hopes to raise up to $500 for the group's endowment fund by selling plots of space on a wall in her high school canteen.

Students can paint on them, and leave a personal expression — at least for the school year.

"I went and checked out paint prices, I was thinking little ones to start off with to see how the idea goes over with," she says to her group.

• Philanthropy a growing trend in Canada •

The club is designed to get De Long and other youth involved in their community, and the idea appears to be catching on.

From British Columbia to New Brunswick, there are at least 25 other Youth in Philanthropy projects, and many more are in the planning stages.

Ruth Mulligan, the teacher who started this club, says it's in its 3rd year at Arthur Meighen High School, supported with a grant from a private charitable foundation in Manitoba.

"We have a grant of $3,500," says Mulligan. "We get to give away $2,500 dollars of that. We learn about what the charities are in Portage and we pick who we want to give that money to."

Stephanie DeSchutter, another club member, says last year they made a donation to the Children's Wish Foundation.

"We got a letter back telling us how because of our donation, we helped to send a little boy from Portage to Disneyland, or wherever it is that he wanted to go," says DeSchutter. "So, getting feedback like that really makes you feel good about what we're doing."

Another example of their charitable work is an educational video on cancer prevention. The students paid for it, because the local cancer charity couldn't afford it without the student's help.

Daisy Dowhy from Central Plains Cancer Care says the video will be a big help for many people.

"Many students throughout the years will benefit from this video as well as adults will benefit," says Dowhy. "But, I also believe the students that I met with that day now have a better understanding of what our services and programs are."

But getting a consensus among students on donations and projects isn't always easy.

Already, there's an issue with De Long's fundraising idea. She forgot to cost out another expense — painting over the wall at the end of the school year and restoring it to its original condition. The students won't approve the idea, until she finds out how much that will cost.

"We just have to talk to the head painter of the school division," says Stephanie, and calls him.

• YIP benefits numerous: students, community •

Mulligan says the students are developing many different skills by participating in the program.

"They're getting good listening skills, but then they get the personal skills about taking the initiative, about being responsible for this whole process," she says. "You can't let your group down and not do that research or not make that report."

The benefactor of the club says there is even more to be gained for the community.

The Thomas Sill Foundation is the principle private funder of charities in rural and Northern Manitoba.

Hugh Arklie, from the Thomas Sill Foundation says those areas are under a significant amount of pressure.

"It's not unusual for young people to finish Grade 12, move to the city to go to school to go to university or college, never go back," he says. "So, one of the things we try to do accomplish by grant-making in rural Manitoba, not just in this program but in all of our activity, is to make rural Manitoba a better place to live."

De Long has her own goals in mind as well.

"I want people to value life I think, for the most part," says De Long. "If they have a problem or an issue that they can deal with, then once they overcome that, they can really value life and start to enjoy their life."

Club member DeSchutter also understands the need to promote quality of life.

"We do have a large population of elderly people who need people to go and sit with them and visit," she says. "And we have the women's shelter and homeless shelter where there is a lot of need."

Shortly after De Long's phone call to the head painter of the school division, she gets the news that painting over the wall at the end of the year will not cost the group anything. The group is thrilled, and quickly moves to go ahead with the fundraiser.

"I feel good," says Stephanie. "Because it's okayed and we're going to get going on it, and it's going to make the canteen brighter and hopefully raise money for Youth in Philanthropy."

Now, Stephanie has an even greater pursuit ahead – she needs the entire school to embrace her fundraising idea.

The need to help others, she hopes, will convince them.

Links related to this story:

  • Youth in Philanthropy Canada:
  • COMMUNITY FOUNDATIONS OF CANADA: Membership organization for 135 community foundations