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Girl Power in Grant Giving

By Bill Zlatos
Friday, February 18, 2005

Instead of deciding what's best for young people, three local foundations are taking a different approach: They're letting girls give money away to address their own problems.
The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, the Jewish Women's Foundation and the FISA Foundation are launching a Girls as Grantmakers program to let young women make their own grants.

The program, which held its first meeting Tuesday, is part of a national trend of increased youth philanthropy. The idea is to let young people decide how to solve their own problems, develop their leadership skills and mold them into future volunteers and donors.

"We all take seriously our responsibility for the generation coming next," said co-founder Pat Siger, a board member of the Jewish Women's Foundation.

The three foundations are chipping in a total of $19,000 over three years. The goal is to assemble a panel of 20 students from Allegheny County in the fall. The girls, representing a mix of backgrounds, would make their first grants in the summer of 2006.
The hope is that the program will spread throughout the region, giving girls a stronger say in what happens to them.

"It's getting them used not only to having their voice be heard, but to be strong," said Emma Blackman-Mathis, 15, a sophomore at Schenley High School in Oakland. She is a leader of the group deciding who will make the grants and the rules they will use to award the money.
The Women and Girl's Foundation will manage the money. The teens will get help from professionals in higher education and nonprofit groups.

Despite the aid, the girls will have a free hand to support whatever projects they deem best.
"It's hard right now to imagine something the girls would want to support that we wouldn't support," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girl's Foundation.
She likes the initiative because it works on two levels: It lets girls decide how to give money away while other girls develop projects to get the grants.

Youth philanthropy was pioneered locally in 1998 by the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. It set up a youth advisory committee of about 20 students from Greensburg Salem, Hempfield Area, Greensburg Central Catholic and Greater Latrobe high schools. They have an endowment of $25,000 to address youth problems.

"If we expose young people to community service and philanthropy at a younger age, they'll be engaged with it throughout their lives," said Bobbi Watt Geer, president of the community foundation.

The committee surveys students to find out the biggest issues. Topping the list are drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of things to do on weekends. The panel has given grants to the Westmoreland CLO Youth Symphony, the 4-H Club and a child care center called Mom's House.

"Being teenagers ourselves, we could pretty much tell which programs would do the most good," said Hayley Curry, 18, of Unity Township. She is president of the committee in Westmoreland County.

Susan Price, author of "The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others," sees signs of a growing generosity among young people around the country.

More schools are requiring community service, she said, and more community foundations are involving young people in grantmaking. Also, more families are getting children involved in volunteering their time and donating their money.

"Parents may be focused on it, in part, because children are growing up in a society focused on materialism," Price said.

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