STAUNTON – Thirteen local nonprofit organizations were awarded grants totaling $30,000 at the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge’s 2023 Youth Philanthropy Council Grants Celebration Tuesday night.
The YPC is a grant-making body comprised of 21 students from all of the local public high schools as well as Stuart Hall School and Ridgeview Christian School. Held at the Staunton Innovation Hub, the celebration was a culmination of a nine-month journey for these students.
Led by Community Foundation Director of Educational Programs Miriam Burrows, the students met monthly at the HUB to learn how nonprofits function and about current challenges in the community. This informed the creation of the YPC’s funding priorities which would guide their evaluations and grant decisions.
The YPC chose to support programs and services that provide equal access to mental health resources, trauma counseling for elementary age children, and programs for residents who need help meeting their basic needs. They were particularly interested in learning about initiatives which attempt to PREVENT the crises which instigate these needs.
On Tuesday night, students like Fort Defiance senior John Emmett Souder got to see the impact of his efforts.
“Today was really cool to see everybody (after we had been arguing about all of the decisions) be really happy with the final result,” Souder said. “It was cool to be able to present together, and be able to put faces with the organizations that we heard so much about.”
The local nonprofit organizations receiving grants were:
- ARROW Project
- Artis Transitions, Inc.
- Blue Ridge CASA for Children
- Creative Works Farms
- Mental Health America of Augusta
- New Directions Center
- On the Road Collaborative
- Sin Barreas
- The Life Work Project
- Valley Children’s Advocacy Center
- Valley Hope Counseling Center
- Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS)
Leaders in the nonprofit community were grateful to be recognized by the students.
“I’m ecstatic, because they are young people that chose us,” said Susan Venable, president and CEO of Artis Transitions. “They’re passionate. They are the future, and I’m just overwhelmed with joy.”
Claudia Lopez-Nunez, executive director at New Directions Center, agreed.
“It’s unfortunate that domestic violence and human trafficking is an ongoing problem,” Lopez-Nunez said. “Knowing that the younger generation is seeing it as the problem it is, and want to do something about it to contribute, brings us hope for the future.”
To Dan Layman, CEO of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, seeing young people fully invested in causes that matter is why the Youth Philanthropy Council exists.
“Not only do we need to take care of the needs of today, we need people taking care of the future,” Layman said. “This is one of the ways in which we are investing in how we care for our community in the future.”
If the 21 kids in the program with Burrows are any indication, Burrows believes the community’s future is safe.
“The care they exhibit in this process is really beautiful,” Burrows said. “They respect each other’s opinions. And they’re genuinely interested in the work of our nonprofit community. They are the helpers!”
Safiya Jarvis is the current chair of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge board.
She echoed the thoughts shared by Burrows.
“It’s a wonderful event,” Jarvis said. “They’ve done a great job. They take their role very seriously as they go through these grant applications, and they are committed to their community. It’s wonderful to see them in this capacity with so much passion for the community.”
It’s equally rewarding for the students. “Honestly, I feel like it was very fulfilling,” said Breya Smith, a Waynesboro High School senior who spent two years on the Youth Philanthropy Council. “Coming in last year, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it definitely brought a sense of community just within one room. To be able to spread that out to other organizations was very impactful as well.”