Last fall, Nica Vasquez wondered how she could start volunteering in her community.
As a student at Wilde Lake High School, Vasquez came across the newly formed Youth in Philanthropy program with the Community Foundation of Howard County. The group of 15 Howard County students gathered in January for its first meeting, with a goal of raising money and handing out grants to local nonprofit organizations.
Then, in March, the coronavirus changed everyday life in the United States, and the group of students shifted its focus to organizations that were most in need amid the pandemic.
About four months later, the group of rising juniors and seniors has raised $30,000 and dispersed those funds to 10 nonprofits in amounts of between $1,000 and $5,000.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Vasquez, a rising senior at Wilde Lake and a program team leader. “Just knowing that we are able to help the community by funding these nonprofits and selecting them to benefit the community even more is a wonderful feeling. It shows that no matter how old you are that you can make a difference in your community.”
The students learned about local nonprofits, the fundraising and grant process and local issues like homelessness, hunger and domestic violence — all of which have been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jeffrey Boutwell, a Community Foundation volunteer, established the program after starting one in Fredericksburg, Virginia, nearly 20 years ago.
“When we got started back in January, the students were very committed,” Boutwell said. “But in March we had to pivot to a new situation, and the students responded wonderfully. They did their research on all the coronavirus emergency response programs, evaluated them and then had to make the difficult decisions with a limited amount of money on who should get funded.”
The first round of grants, totaling $10,000 to five organizations, was handed out in May. The second round, totaling $20,000 to six nonprofits, was decided July 20.
To fund the second wave of grants, Youth in Philanthropy secured three donations of $5,000 from the Community Foundation of Howard County, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the Edgemoor-Star America Judicial Partners, matching the $5,000 the group had already raised.
“We are so thrilled to be chosen by the Youth in Philanthropy team for this funding,” said Jen Broderick, executive director of Bridges to Housing Stability, which received $3,000. “... This funding through the YIP grant allows Bridges to continue to ramp up our efforts to provide food and essential need items, rent assistance, help to access benefits and support with getting re-employed or finding additional employment to make ends meet.”
Alex Oh, a rising senior at River Hill High School, found out about Youth in Philanthropy when searching for volunteering opportunities in Howard County last year. Now, Oh said the experience of working with other students to provide the grants has been “amazing.”
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“We know we are making a positive impact on our community,” Oh said. “There are people in need, especially now with the coronavirus.”
One of the nonprofits to receive funding in the second round of grants was HopeWorks, a sexual assault and domestic violence prevention center that was awarded $2,000.
“I felt very happy when I found out they were going to receive funding,” said Vasquez, who also volunteers for HopeWorks. “The COVID-19 pandemic has especially impacted victims of domestic abuse and relationship violence.”
Here is a list of organizations that received grant funding from Youth in Philanthropy:
- Equity 4HC — $5,000
- United Way of Central Maryland — $5,000
- Community Action Council of Howard County — $4,000
- Prepare for Success (Community Action Council) — $3,000
- Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland — $3,000
- Bridges to Housing Stability Inc. — $3,000
- Neighbor Ride — $2,000
- HopeWorks — $2,000
- Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center — $2,000
- Chase Brexton Health Services — $1,000
The 15 students in Youth in Philanthropy are: Tami Akinrelere (Long Reach), Hunter Brown (Wilde Lake), Ali DaCosta-Paul (Oakland Mills), Daniel Hersey (Glenelg Country School), Kyle Marshall (Wilde Lake), Tyler May (Oakland Mills), Navya Natarajan (Centennial), Lexi Nguyen (Atholton), Abby O’Brien (River Hill), Alex Oh (River Hill), Anwar Perry (Reservoir), Bryn Schwartz (Centennial), Devin Tyler (Glenelg Country School), Nica Vasquez (Wilde Lake) and Tia Yu (Howard).
The group will take a few months off before recruiting more students and preparing its next round of grants. Boutwell hopes the group can continue to provide grant funding to local nonprofits for years to come.
“We’ll certainly be continuing into next year and into the future,” he said. “This is great to involve the students, families and businesses in the community. We see this as a self-sustaining operation for a long time.”