Last September, Alec Seavey, then a junior at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, was chosen to be among an elite cohort of grant makers-in-training who would be eager to award small grants (between $1,000 and $5,000) to several worthy youth-centered nonprofits in the spring.
It was the latest crop of high school-age kids to be accepted into Future Philanthropists (FP), a two-year leadership skills development program for juniors, then seniors in high school.
The program is sponsored by the Community Foundation of Oak Park and River Forest.
Now, in Seavey’s second year, he will learn how to stage and manage a successful capital campaign, one that has a specific financial goal, just as such a project would in the real world, says Mark Sitzman, a volunteer program mentor, who also sits on the foundation’s board of directors.
Sitzman says the competitive enrichment opportunity is open to juniors attending Oak Park and River Forest High School, Fenwick High School and Trinity High School in River Forest.
Future Philanthropists was conceived and mounted in 2010 by Richard M. King, also a foundation board member.
“Every year, what the kids learn is that when you are grant making, the idea is to only spend five percent of the funds contained within the endowment. The reason for that is to keep the endowment sustainable. The kids learn the entire grant process, and it is pretty rigorous,” Sitzman says.
In addition to the teens learning the art and science of philanthropy, he says “it has an element of social enterprise, where they do some volunteering, as well.”
This year, Kristin Vogen, president & CEO of Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, hopes to raise the bar by asking community members to possibly pitch in, as well.
“We have a goal for the program to be self-sufficient. In order to achieve that goal, we are currently seeking an additional $450,000 from our [base of donors],” she said in a written response.
Meanwhile Seavey, now 17, is readying a launch of the second year student’s fundraising drive, wondering if it will be as difficult to raise money, as it was to give it away.
“Last year, once we started the site visits of the various charities, and started our ‘cage match,’ as it is called, to decide which charities are going to receive the funds, that is when it became very interesting, engaging, and a lot of fun for all of us,” Seavey said.
The effort will culminate in spring, with an awards event, to disseminate grant checks and acknowledge the 2014-15 fundraising initiative staged by the local youth.
“We have our first group graduating from college. What would be exciting would be to have them come back and be the program mentors, and one or two of their kids be participants. Now that would be full circle,” said Joe Smith, a long-time program mentor. “What Alec and his peers will learn soon is that it is certainly difficult to ask anyone for money, or anything, really. But, when you believe in what you are doing, and your heart and passion is behind it, for them that is what this senior year is. It will be to teach these young men and women about the ‘why’ of embracing a philanthropic life.”