When Kids Decide

When Piper Winder*, Nolan Fiereck*, and Claire Cooney* applied to be a part of the Multnomah Athletic Foundation’s Youth Grant Initiative (YGI), they expected to help others and meet some other like-minded kids their age. But they didn’t expect to get to make all the decisions. They also didn’t expect to have so much fun. We spoke with each of them about their participation with the program, and they gave us four main reasons they’re glad they did it and think other kids should too.

1. Empowerment

How often do middle school kids get to be in charge? Piper, Nolan, and Claire all said their favorite part of YGI was that they got to make decisions like adults. This is one of the most unique and cool things about the program. The adults are there to support the kids, but the kids get to decide.

“It was led by the kids. That was nice.” – Nolan

“For me it was the first time ever to make an adult decision and it was really fun.” – Claire

“It was empowering to know you’re helping, and in charge of the decisions. The YGI gives kids a voice.” – Piper

2. Confidence

Being given all that power is challenging. There are usually around 20-30 nonprofit organizations applying for donations, and each one supports a great cause. Everyone has their favorites starting out, and not everyone agrees on which organizations should be awarded money. The kids are shown how to assess each organization and work together to narrow it down by keeping an open mind, listening to each other, and staying true to the foundation’s mission, which is to increase access to opportunities for youth participation in athletics. The skills they learn are important life skills that build confidence and the ability to lead and collaborate well with others.

“I learned how to discern between things, and weigh the options” – Claire

“We had to give a big presentation at the end. I wasn’t good at speaking and now I have more confidence.” – Nolan

“My experience with the YGI helped me figure out how to narrow down choices. I used to try to do too much, but now it’s better.” – Piper

3. Clarity

A lot of kids like the idea of giving back and making a positive difference in their community. But not all kids understand how they can contribute, or whether anything they do will really make a difference. The YGI demystifies philanthropy, and explains the roles government, companies, and non-profits can play to make positive change. It also explains how individuals can make a difference. The kids are taught to think about philanthropic contributions in three buckets, “time, treasure, and talent.” All of this provides a “road map” not only for how they make decisions about the YGI grant awards, but also how philanthropy can be a part of their lives going forward.

After being a part of the YGI, Piper initiated a mentorship at City Hall to work with elected city officials to learn about the work between nonprofits and the government entities in Portland.

When philanthropic artist Gary Hirsch came to share his BOT joy projects, Claire was inspired to replicate the idea at her school as a way to promote small acts of kindness.

Nolan said volunteering was a newer experience for him, and it was helpful to see examples of what others are doing, especially at a younger age.

4. Fun

They all admitted it was more fun than they thought it would be. Lisa Bendt, the Executive Director of the Multnomah Athletic Foundation, works directly with the kids, and they absolutely love her as a teacher and a mentor. They also forged friendships during, and even after, the program. For example, when Piper learned a friend had gone to Camp UKANDU, one of the grant recipients she helped choose, it brought them closer together. And Piper still volunteers with the foundation any chance she gets. The YGI curriculum makes work feel like play, and instills passion and curiosity in the hearts and minds of these young adults.

And if all that’s not enough, Piper, Claire and Nolan all raved about the snacks they got at every meeting, and in particular, the chocolate chip cookies.

 “It was super hard, but also really fun. Lisa made it so great.” – Claire

“I thought it might be kind of boring, but I had a lot of fun.” – Nolan

“It was super fun. I made new friends and we stay in touch. I still volunteer with the Multnomah Athletic Foundation because it is a great community and a wonderful organization.” – Piper

Who doesn’t want empowerment, confidence, clarity…. and free cookies?

Interested in being a member for the 2020 YGI cohort? Applications are open and due May 29. More details can be found here.

Story by Ashley Kaiser
Originally published in the May 2020 issue of The Winged M magazine.