In the Youth and Philanthropy (YAP) program, high school students are the jury, determining how to distribute $25,000 in grant money. The United Way program receives funding from the Triad Foundation, a local nonprofit. Then, the teens divvy it up and award recipients.
“Many people may not believe that high school students are responsible enough to award $25,000, but young people bring such a fresh and new perspective to grants,” said Emma Terwilliger, director of United Way’s community impact. “Every single student took their job seriously, making sure to look at every part of the application and weighing the different grant criteria.”
Students are randomly put into smaller groups, and receive a fraction of the applications. Within their groups, they debate the need, impact, implementation, and creativity of projects. The teens, who are usually seniors in high school, are looking for the programs that best promote education, financial stability, and health in Tompkins County.
This year’s window for grant applications will open on Sept. 3 and last about a month. Adults can also nominate teens to be a part of the grant-awarding committee online until the end of September.
While the actual funding is vital to operation, the community support is invaluable, too, described Jessica Gosa, executive director of Foodnet Meals on Wheels.
The organization used their $3,500 in YAP funds to fund “blizzard bags”, which are bags of shelf-stable, healthy meals that are available if Meals on Wheels can’t operate due to inclement weather. Meals on Wheels delivers hot meals to the doors of their clients, who are older adults and other people in need in Tompkins County.
With the help of additional donations, they were able to deliver 417 blizzard bags, which translated to 1,668 meals. While the community funded the program, even the details of the blizzard bag program—from the physical bags to the packing process—required hands-on contributions from the community.
“It's a beautiful fit, because we engage youth in the packing of the delivery, the meals,” Gosa said. “It's not just about delivering out the meals, but raising awareness about the challenges.”
In the last application cycle, 10 out of 12 projects were partially- or fully-funded. The fund seeks to award organizations in Tompkins County promoting education, financial stability and health.
Other funded projects included the YMCA’s bike education program.
“We feel so strongly about outdoor [education] and getting kids outdoors, and learning about the things that can be done outdoors,” said Frank Towner, CEO of the YMCA of Ithaca & Tompkins County. But Towner said he saw a need for more safety education for kids who were riding their bikes outdoors that oftentimes don’t learn about bicycle safety on the road beyond what their parents tell them.
With $1,500 in YAP funds, the YMCA was able to purchase bikes and start a trial bike-safety and instruction program after school and begin to integrate bike safety into summer camps.
YAP is an opportunity for students to recognize challenges in the area, and then be a part of making a “substantial impact,” Terwilliger said. Other recipients included Habitat for Humanity and the Ithaca Health Alliance.