Promoting civic engagement among young people is essential, and the Northern New York Community Foundation has taken on this task.

It is once again holding its Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge. The contest is open to students in seventh and eighth grade from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

The NNYCF will choose 20 entries from all those submitted. Students must complete an essay-based application in writing to participate.

“The challenge seeks to engage students in learning about their communities while they compete for an opportunity to award a $500 grant to a local nonprofit organization of their choice. This is the fifth year of the program, which is made possible by donors to the Community Foundation’s Friends of the Foundation Annual Community Betterment Fund, corporate support from Community Bank and a gift from an individual donor,” according to a news item published Sept. 22 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Students in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties are eligible to compete for a share of $10,000 in total grant awards. Twenty students will be selected to each present a $500 grant to a charitable organization of their choice that they think makes their community great. … In the program’s first four years, 83 students were selected to present 79 grants totaling $40,000 to 67 different nonprofit organizations that serve tri-county residents.”

This program accomplishes two worthy goals.

The first one, frankly, is a no-brainer for us to support. As a newspaper, we absolutely applaud any effort to promote projects entailing well-crafted writing among young people! Being able to choose just the right words to communicate effectively is an essential skill, and we commend the NNYCF for making this a part of the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge.

Secondly, this program entices students to consider what issues confront their communities and which organizations are addressing these specific needs. In so doing, it compels them to recognize the good work being done by certain groups.

“This competition was an invitation for area middle school students to talk about the things they love about their community. They were competing to award a total of $10,000 to area charitable organizations. Whether they realized it or not, they were really exploring, thinking and reflecting on the importance of love of community, love of the place where they live and making it better for them and their neighbors,” Richardson wrote. “What does an ideal community look like through the eyes of our young people? Of the 62 essays submitted from nine school districts, there were several common themes including love, kindness, joy, caring, connecting, safety, support, helping, togetherness, diversity, belonging, neighbors, beauty, happiness, betterment, belonging, sharing and respect. These young adults also recognized that it takes all different types of organizations to help create and sustain their best vision of their community as they nominated charities that they felt help supported their love of community.

“These young minds demonstrated an awareness that quality of life includes addressing the most basic of needs as well as the enhancement of quality of life,” according to Richardson’s column. “As generational shifts continue, programs like this not only provide insight into how those who will inherit our communities think, they also are a proactive way to instill concepts of civic engagement and nurture the importance of giving of oneself to maintain a vibrant community.”

Richardson puts the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge into perspective, and the NNYCF is well-suited to carry out the program’s goals. It is a wonderful way to encourage students to reflect on what makes a good community and how they want this region to look like in the future.

Applications may be picked up at the NNYCF office, 131 Washington St. in Watertown. They also are available on the group’s website (www.nnycf.org) or at local schools.

Entries must be submitted online, postmarked or hand-delivered to the NNYCF by Nov. 19. Organizations eligible to receive $500 must be nonprofit groups in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties.

Contact NNYCF coordinator of partnerships Mary Perrine at 315-782-7110 or maryp@nnycf.org for more information.

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