What do you get when you take a group of motivated high school students backed by generous community donors and challenge them to address current youth issues? YEP 2.Pro, a proactive youth grant committee with a desire for positive change in DeKalb County.
In the fall of 2018, Youth Engaged in Philanthropy (YEP), a high school youth-led committee of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, began its 10th year. In celebration of this 10th year, YEP wanted to step out of their mold and take youth philanthropy to a new level. One idea was to give members more opportunities for leadership and impact. With this in mind, they created YEP 2.Pro, an additional committee of YEP focused on proactive grantmaking.
The YEP 2.Pro committee is made up of juniors and seniors with one or more years of experience in YEP. In addition to the high school members are two adult advisors. Dan Templin, Community Foundation executive director, and Nancy M. Castle, community advisor, serve as these advisors.
The committee’s first meeting was spent on exploring the last 10 years of data submitted by YEP members. Each year, members must apply for membership. On the application, applicants list what they see as youth issues in DeKalb County. Taking this data and identifying the top 5 issues, the committee worked to see which one they would choose to address. “Lack of youth involvement in the community,” was the issue they chose to do something about.
From there the committee walked through a proactive grant development framework. This framework helped the youth to identify goals, barriers, strategies, and tactics. The overall goal was to create motivation and momentum to get high school youth more involved in their community.
As conversation and ideas began to generate, one member spoke up with a direction changing idea. “What if we focus on middle school students?” said then Sycamore senior Ben Keierleber. “If they are motivated in middle school, that should easily carry over into high school and beyond.” The committee took the idea and ran with it. They researched volunteerism in local middle schools and other organizations to see what was already offered.
Over the course of the year, the YEP 2.Pro committee began to fundraise. The committee decided upon a $5,000 goal to ensure they had enough to create impact. Leading their efforts was then YEP donor relations & fundraising chair, Sophie McComb from Sycamore High School.
“In the beginning, as we approached potential donors, we had to convince them of our idea without a defined project in place,” said Sophie. “It was in these conversations with donors on the value and importance of YEP, that I realized a deeper meaning of philanthropy and its role in building community. YEP 2.Pro has challenged me, delighted me, and encouraged me to live generously for something bigger than myself.”
YEP 2.PRO was rewarded from the very start with a generous $2,500 match from donors John and Nancy M. Castle. Taking the momentum from this matching gift, the committee met with donors all across the county to pitch their idea and request support. They met their goal finishing with a total of $5,041 including the match. Thank you to the generous donors who believed in YEP and provided an opportunity for these students to explore and address youth issues proactively!
Youth issue to address, CHECK. Goals, strategies, and tactics written out, CHECK. Funding in place to support their idea, CHECK. Next up was the “how”. How would YEP 2.Pro address lack of youth involvement among middle school students in the community? An idea was brought to their attention about a program called Our American Voice (OAV). OAV provides civic education to schools and ties in their programming with a community or school betterment project idea. The committee met with a representative from OAV and asked a variety of questions on outcomes, impact, and if this was a good idea for rural DeKalb County. They loved the community project portion of the curriculum and could envision the impact. It turned out to be a winning idea and the committee voted to move forward with OAV.
Communication was then sent out to all school superintendents in DeKalb County to engage interest and participation in the OAV program. YEP 2.Pro would fund the entire program. All that was needed from a school was principal buy-in and a teacher champion to lead the program. Principal Justin Snider and teacher Eric Roberts from Somonauk Middle School jumped at the opportunity to participate. The YEP2.Pro committee set the ball in motion to begin next steps.
Fast forward to the fall of 2019 and YEP 2.Pro began working with Somonauk Middle School on their first OAV program. Somonauk Club OAV, as they call it, meets before and after school two days a week. Morning sessions focus on civic education and afternoon sessions on the community service project. Seventeen students were in the OAV program during this first year.
During the first few weeks, Mr. Roberts took Club OAV on a walk around the community to identify areas they could help with. The students found their first community project on school grounds. The current parking lot was in need of new and replacement handicap signage. Club OAV made a request to the school to update the signage. New signage was ordered and is now in place.
Next, Club OAV began working on a necessities drive to benefit local food pantries in the southern part of the county. The idea was to collect essentials and personal hygiene items for the needy. They invited YEP 2.Pro to come onsite and work with them on the planning. The two groups brainstormed what to collect, how to collect it, and the ways to create buzz about the event. The requested items were broken into two main categories, male and female. Local organizations generously provided bins, boxes, and bags for the collection. Thank you to School Tool Box, Sycamore Containers, and Somonauk School District for working with YEP 2.Pro and Club OAV to make this idea successful.
The necessities drive took place on January, 4, 2020 in conjunction with Somonauk’s “Pack the Place” basketball game. Large bins were used to collect 65 gallons of items. Club OAV took the items and filled 28 bags for females and 25 for males. The bags were donated to Harvest Chapel Food Pantry in Sandwich.
“The collections we donated to Harvest Chapel were well received,” said Eric Roberts. “According to Pastor Wes Bell, food is easy for the church to gather for those in need, but the necessities are hard to come by. Overall, the Club OAV students were thrilled with the success of the project and are proud that they made a difference to those in need.”
SMS Club OAV had plans for another necessities drive in the spring of 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans were put on hold. This new idea was a competition between Somonauk’s elementary, middle, and high schools. In early May 2020, Club OAV came back to YEP with a new idea. With the necessities drive on hold, what about providing food to local healthcare workers and first responders in the community. This act of kindness and support would show appreciation for the great work of these essential workers. YEP 2.Pro saw this as a wonderful opportunity for these students to experience the joy of philanthropy and to be involved in their community. After a quick unanimous vote, a grant was awarded to Club OAV for this new idea.
“Addressing youth issues is a large challenge for any community,” said YEP staff advisor Noah Nordbrock. “It’s awesome to see the outcomes from our first YEP 2.Pro grant. Somonauk Club OAV is a great example of what youth can do when given the opportunity to be involved in their community. Thank you to our members, advisors, and donors for working together to make this possible. We look forward to what Youth Engaged in Philanthropy and the YEP 2.Pro committee do next!”
The mission of YEP is to improve the quality of life for youth in the community. YEP is open to all high school students in DeKalb County. Committee members learn a variety of skills and are introduced to numerous opportunities for leadership. Members learn about grantmaking, nonprofit organizations, the importance of philanthropy, and that their voice is valuable. 84 members and nine high schools were represented in the 2019-2020 membership. For more information or to provide support to these efforts, visit dekalbccf.org/yep or contact Noah Nordbrock at 815-748-5383.