Promising youth Philanthropy Program

Youth Action Committee awards two grants, must decide on another

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2009

With its budding Juneau youth philanthropy program - called the Youth Action Committee - the Juneau Community Foundation has taken great steps to support local youth programs.

Courtesy Of The Youth Action Committee
Courtesy Of The Youth Action Committee

"It's been really successful," said Juneau Community Foundation board member and program adviser Peter Juraz said. "We're really teaching them the process of grant-making, or grant-requesting, writing grants, applying for certain kinds of dollars."

The committee, which began in the fall of 2007, is made up of approximately 12 volunteer high school students, mostly sophomores and juniors, from both high schools. The students meet monthly during the school year to conduct an annual grant-making cycle, making funds available through their own Request for Proposals process. The funds are then open to any Juneau program that provides services to the Juneau youth population.

The young philanthropists learn about opportunities for Juneau's children as well as how to prepare and evaluate an RFP and monitor the results of their decisions. They also are responsible for raising new funds to match foundation funds and perpetuate the program.

"The number one (goal) is to get kids thinking about what it means to be philanthropic," Jurasz said. "What does it mean to give to those areas in your community that have needs? ... The other driving force is a useful tool in the sense of also teaching kids that it's OK to go to a business or organization and say, 'Would you be willing to donate X-number of dollars for this cause?'"

In its first year, the youth committee established leadership positions and examined the broad problems facing their age group. After much deliberation, the group focused their Request for Proposals on two needs - helping homeless youth and providing vocational training to adolescents ages 13-18.

"We, as adults, didn't want to impose our own perspective or thoughts," Jurasz said. "We really wanted this to come from the perspective of the youth."

A philanthropist himself, Jurasz said he enjoyed watching the students go through that process.

"It was nice to see them be courteous to the other peers around the table in trying to or struggling to understand their perspective," he said.

Although the dialogue was positive, deciding who gets how much was difficult for the students.

"When you spend time with a group of what I would call bright kids, they recognize there might be a dozen issues that face their peers on a daily, monthly, yearly basis," he said. "So probably the first and greatest challenge was just trying to focus on one or two significant issues and say, 'This is what we want to tackle - this year,' and recognize they couldn't change the world in one sweeping change. We all would like that, but it just doesn't happen that way."

Despite the difficulty, the committee honed its focus and chose its target audience to raise the capital they would gift out.

"That's really where the Douglas-Dornan Foundation stepped in," Jurasz said.

After presenting its goals last June to Paul Douglas, trustee of the foundation, the youth committee was granted $10,000 to administer. It then submitted Request for Proposals to approximately 10 organizations, such as the Glory Hole, Juneau Youth Services, SAGA and Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as made a public announcement.

According to Ken Leghorn, foundation executive director, the group accepted requests for amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000 and received three completed proposals over the summer. They met several times in the fall to review the proposals, interview the applicants and make their decision.

The group then decided on two grants to be awarded: $5,000 to Juneau Youth Services for the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter serving homeless and runaway youth, and $3,870 to SAGA and Serve Alaska Youth Corp., for camping equipment that will be used for Juneau children who otherwise could not participate.

In addition to the Douglas-Dornan Foundation grant, the Alaska Lung Association recently awarded the Youth Action Committee $2,000.

In its next meeting, to be held Jan. 17, the committee will focus on how to allot this recent grant money as well as what the next round of grant-making will include.

"It's a cycle," Jurasz said. "It's really to shed light, use it as an educational platform for the youth but also to make sure that monies are targeted in areas that clearly they're the experts on. They live and breath it every day."

In their last meeting, some members brought in recruits.

"The hope going forward is really for the recruiting to happen within the committee as a driving force," Jurasz said. "So, as the sophomores become juniors and seniors, they're bringing in kids two or three years their junior to kind of take their place as they move on to college."

Aside from providing him insight to his own teenagers' minds, Jurasz said working with YAC has been satisfying.

"It is absolutely rewarding watching kids develop recognition that sometimes magnificent change can come from just all increments of the grassroots effort," he said, "that it doesn't have to be big checks, and it doesn't have to be monumental in the numbers, but that each person takes on a small role themselves to effect change."

Juarez said the group's future looks promising.

"Are they advising the adults, or are the adults advising the kids? I don't know," he said. "We're dealing with a group of bright kids."

For more information on the foundation or its youth philanthropy program, call 463-3223 or visit

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or

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