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The Kids are alright…next generation leadership and the DCF Youth Philanthropy Boards

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One of the challenges of every generation is to ensure that succeeding generations are prepared to lead. Whether in our families, our schools, our workplaces, or in community groups, we should all be attentive to inspiring and encouraging new leadership.

At the DCF, one way to watch that work in action is our Youth Philanthropy Boards. And if you’ve ever bemoaned the lack of responsibility and leadership in the “next” generation, these students will make you change your mind.

Each year, DCF invites a student from every high school in the state to participate in YPB in their respective counties. With light touch guidance from DCF staff and volunteer mentors, the youth are in charge.

Each year, these students walk into a room of strangers and begin a process that starts with identifying critical issues, moves on to picking an issue for a grant program, building a grant application form, reviewing applicants, conducting site visits, and then awarding grants – $10,000 each in Kent and Sussex Counties, and $15,000 in New Castle.

From beginning to end, the leadership of the students is inspiring.

It starts with the topics they choose. They don’t flinch at hard topics, but zero in on the needs of modern society.

This year, those topics included mental health and substance abuse counseling (Sussex YPB); support services for at-risk youth, with a preference for programs focusing on substance abuse and/or mental health issues (Kent YPB); and assistance for families or friends after the loss of a loved one through substance abuse, suicide or other tragic circumstances (New Castle YPB).

Site visits are organized and attended by the students.

The decisions about who gets the money are theirs. (Awardees this year included LaRed, Children and Families First and Urban Promise. Check our news release page to see details.)

And the awards program is run by the students.

It’s wonderful stuff.

The YPB program is a great example of how – by giving responsibility and a cause, with some mentoring and assistance, to young people – we can watch next generation leadership develop. Here is an excerpt from comments shared by New Castle YPBer Alivia Scott at the awards ceremony in April.

I am so proud of the work we have been able to do through the YPB and the amazing opportunity it has been itself. It has inspired me to be involved and knowledgeable about issues in our area, to volunteer and make my time worthwhile, and has opened my eyes to those in difficult situations.

Talking with the students up and down the state, the comments were the same. “I thought the adults would tell us what to do, but we were in charge.” “This wasn’t easy.” “We were given the responsibility and we took it.” “I didn’t know that I could do this.” “This was a tremendous learning opportunity.”

This year represented the 19th year of the program. And over that time, the YPB groups have awarded over $480,000 in grants. (Foreshadowing: the 20th year of YPB will take them over half a million in grants!) Scores of nonprofits have received much needed support.

Most importantly, scores of young people have strengthened their leadership skills, and built belief in themselves to make a difference in the world.