Nonprofits Today Column: A shared responsibility to instill community values

Watertown High School 2021 graduates Vincent Lavarnway and Evan Richardson regularly accompanied Joanne Lavarnway while making deliveries for Meals on Wheels. This allowed them to personally experience the rewards of volunteering in their community.

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Gandhi

Increasingly, it has been shown that there are significant advantages to instilling charitable instinct and awareness of needs at a young age. From making donations to volunteering time, the Northern New York Community Foundation has made it a core value of its work and mission to take a multi-generational approach to civic service and engagement. Inspiring pathways to exploring charitable interests and passions has far-reaching and enduring benefits for the individual, the family, the community and our world. In addition to being a powerful way to share beliefs, this can provide a pathway to conversations about social issues and our collective role in addressing them. It can also help teach financial values regarding how we earn, spend, save, and give.

We are continually grateful for our annual donors and business partners who will make possible, for the fifth year, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge. The initiative strives to help participants explore their concept of community and provide funding to charitable organizations that embody and support what middle school students feel makes their community a great place to live. Through a written essay contest, they are asked to explain what community means to them and to choose a nonprofit organization that best embodies their sense of community. Twenty students are selected, and each presents their grant while learning more about the organization’s mission. Since 2017, nearly 400 students, representing 21 school districts have participated in the program.

Another endeavor, now entering its eleventh year, the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council has begun its work again, engaging high school students in the process of grantmaking, service, stewardship, and charitable investing. The program teaches valuable lessons about leadership, responsibility and teamwork while building networks and an awareness of the issues facing our region.

As part of the continuum, the Foundation’s LEAD (Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction) Council was formed in 2014 as an advisory committee of local young professionals. Empowered to make strategic investments through the LEAD Impact Grant Program, their work enables a timely response to emerging and critical needs. Requests that demonstrate innovative approaches to service and strengthening missions and community are a priority.

These three programs embrace a hands-on approach, something that is consistent with a clearly rising trend. Through the last decade, there is a great desire among the next generation to be more deeply involved in the things they choose to support. They want to roll up their sleeves and see the impact they are having with their own eyes. They are less inclined to give to organizations with the thought that “they know better than me” how to deploy it. The Community Foundation has been increasingly and uniquely positioned to provide greater donor choice and with direction and specificity to align best with individual charitable interests and passions.

In the spirit of the programs mentioned, family philanthropy can also be a powerful way to share values and connect with your loved ones. As the holiday season approaches, consider incorporating family discussions at home regarding the importance and power of giving and impact investing. Some of our donors have created donor-advised funds within the Community Foundation as a gift to their children and grandchildren. By doing so, they provide a framework for family giving, empowering members to increase their own sense of ownership in making a difference for the things they care about most.

Each of these keep our own problems in perspective, share experiences, establish valuable traditions, and help our community. Passing on deeply held personal beliefs and teaching lessons about financial management and responsibility are valuable gifts. In giving of time, talent, and treasure, you also discover new ways to work together to share the joy of helping others. More importantly, you gain a greater awareness of the world around you, and often discover a deeper sense of yourself.

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