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The real future of giving (05/25/2008)

by Luke Merchlewitz

W-K School teacher, from presentation during WCF's 2008 Celebrity Night event

For the past 25 years I have been an elementary classroom teacher and have been able to touch the future every day in my work. Twice in the last three years my students and I have volunteered with the Winona Community Foundation. The Youth in Philanthropy program is, at the broadest level, our Winona youth giving of their time and (decision-making process) to volunteer. Through adult partnerships and having a voice, our youth are reminding the adults in their world what matters and what is important to them.

I would like you to know that the procedures and guidelines set up in the Winona Youth in Philanthropy program come to me as the classroom teacher from this foundation. The organizations applying for funds and their grant writers need to know who specifically is reading, critiquing and evaluating grant requests. Grant applications need to be written, developed and presented in one of three categories: elementary, middle / high school or college students.

With 2nd graders, it is a necessity that the grants be printed or typed and come with pictures and drawings explaining what they are requesting. Vocabulary and sentence structure in the application needs to be appropriate for a young beginning reader. Agencies such as the Humane Society, DAC, Ready Set School may provide pictures and visuals which always score higher points from children and receives continuous "oohs and ahhs" from the students. Through a rigorous decision-making process, complete with checklists, discussion and problem solving, including ranking, debating and dividing up their allocations, children reach consensus.

As the adult it is important to me that I remain unbiased and neutral. I must admit that I do, however, need to remind them that they are not keeping the money and just sometimes exactly how much a $1,000 is. Once all the pieces are in place, the decisions completed and awards are made the children feel glad and sad at the same time. They are truly heartbroken that not everyone's grant receives money. But they feel extremely proud that some adults trusted them and really needed their help in making a tough decision.

When I mentioned to some W-K students that I had been invited to visit with a bunch of grownups tonight about Youth in Philanthropy they wanted me to make sure you know what this project is and why they would like to see it continue. Hannah shared that Philanthropy is "a good experience, and that it is a time when I got to think of others, rather than myself." She told me she learned, "giving people stuff feels good inside." She wanted me to tell you that "you should care for this program because if someday something really bad happens to you or sometime you really want money for something she just might be the person to give it to you!"

Dalton said that his YiP experiences provided a "good feeling inside that I helped somebody who has needs." I also have to tell you that Dalton was also the stickler for details. While reviewing and reading through all the grant applications with his peers, he convinced his entire class to completely throw out a grant for "not following the directions". The application used words he couldn't understand the meaning of.

This partnership awakened the children in my classroom to think of GIVING, not only as a duty but a privilege...and that is powerful. Youth in Philanthropy helps young people develop skills, knowledge, and confidence about volunteerism and civic engagement. We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. And I am proud and confident that the WCF will continue changing the children in my classroom and in their world with a giving heart.



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