Empowering Philanthropy: The Impact of the Youth Grant Initiative

By Jennifer Holzapfel-Hanson

In a world where the voices of youth are often relegated to fleeting social media posts, the Youth Grant Initiative (YGI) empowers teenagers to create positive and lasting change through community engagement and hands-on philanthropy. This unique program, spearheaded by the Multnomah Athletic Foundation (MAF), equips a selected group of students with the tools and platform needed to make a tangible difference, by offering the cohort $5,000 to donate to an organization of their choice.

Mollyanne Fleming, a proud parent of two sons, Loland (16) and Winston (14), reflects on their involvement in the YGI with appreciation. “It’s like a best known secret; you are giving money away, but you are also gaining all of these life skills in a way that is anchored in movement, athleticism and helping others to be active in the world.”

Loland, now a seasoned participant who has been part of the program twice, describes how his original group in 2020 focused on understanding philanthropy and working with others (albeit digitally). “We learned about specific organizations that help make our community a better place,” he noted. “Individually we picked our favorite organizations, but I learned it was more important to listen to others and collaborate.”

Now a junior at Jesuit High School, his participation in the in-person alumni program in 2023 involved a deeper dive into considering how selected organizations used their funding.

For Winston, an eighth-grader at Our Lady Of the Lake School, participating in the YGI in 2023 shined a light on empathy and active listening. “I learned how to be a philanthropist by giving your time away and not expecting anything in return,” he shares. He says the program opened his eyes to the everyday needs of others — and the true impact of random acts of kindness.

Grant Allocation Process

At the heart of the YGI experience is the process of evaluating applications and deciding where to allocate funds. Participants meet in-person seven times during the year for two hours with 10 to 12 other participants. (Those invited back for the alumni group meet three times with a smaller collective.)

The cohort reviews applications, grades them based on alignment with the Foundation’s mission — all managed alongside completing their homework and participating in extracurriculars, including cross country practice and soccer for Loland, and baseball, rock climbing, soccer and tennis for Winston.

 “We did something called ‘dot voting,’” Winston explains, detailing how his group narrowed down their options to select the most deserving organizations. Each person allotted green dots for organizations they liked, and red dots for organizations they wanted to dismiss. Then the discussions began.

Building Essential Skills

While the youth work to maximize their grant’s impact, the YGI is about much more than distributing funds. Through meetings facilitated by MAF’s Executive Director, Lisa Bendt, who coordinates interactive hands-on experiences for the teens and brings in guest speakers, the YGI fosters life skills for participants, including active listening, reading body language, consensus-building, collaboration, time management and public speaking.

With applications opening in April for the 2024 group of YGI participants, Mollyanne encourages other parents to consider the program as a valuable opportunity for their seventh or eighth graders to help create broader awareness. “Just the process of applying is a valuable learning in and of itself,” she says.

Details and Deadlines

  • Applications open on April 26
  • Informational Open House in the club’s Reading Lounge May 7 from 4 – 6 PM
  • Application Deadline May 24 at 11.30 pm
  • Interviews June 3 and 6
  • Cohort announcement June 7

More details and online application available HERE