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Gift - Giving

Kids profit in many ways when they become involved with philanthropy

By CARMEN MARTI
    Everybody's heard of Oprah's initiative to educate girls in South Africa. You know, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. It's a boarding school for underprivileged youth in grades 7 to 12. Its mission is to teach high academic standards and community service.
    Not only Oprah, but also more and more big-name organizations are establishing youth programs to foster personal success and a desire to help others. The Gap, Merrill Lynch, Bill Gates—all have paired kids and philanthropy, with an eye for both giving and getting back.
    Merrill Lynch, which has partnered with the non-profit organization, Economics-Pennsylvania, runs a financial literacy curriculum in Philadelphia's 53 public high schools. It's looking out for the students' future, as well as its own. Companies such as Merrill Lynch need to consider their future workforce.
"Companies are worried they won't be able to find American workers," says Gabrielle Lyon, co-founder of Project Exploration. She and her eight-year-old non-profit organization support science education, particularly for girls. "Science here is designed for the top five to 10 percent of students academically. That's not feeding the career pipeline."
    So Lyon created programs such as "Sisters4Science," "All Girls Expedition," "Girls' Health and Science Day" and "Women in Science" to encourage girls to pursue science. Activities include meeting once a week after school to do hands-on science activities led by women scientists, going on science-based field trips and traveling to an outdoor retreat. Though it started as a launching pad for girls, Project Exploration has also incorporated programming for boys. "'Brothers4Biology' is coming," Lyon says.
    While Project Exploration can pat itself on the back for impressive stats when it comes to science—35 percent of all females and 25 percent of all participants who graduated high school as Project Exploration field alumni are majoring in science—its numbers are even better when it comes to where their alumni are in terms of life. Ninety-two percent have graduated high school, and 57 percent have enrolled in a four-year college.
    Likewise, students who participate in programs to raise social awareness and provide community service also do well. According to Whitney Smith, founder of Girls For a Change, a non-profit organization working to empower girls through activism, "Social change is a method for achieving new skills. Girls leave at the end of the year with a new sense of confidence and problem-solving skills. They incorporate a new identity in their lives."
    Shureice Kornegay, a "Sisters4Science" alum, has gone on a dinosaur expedition to Niger, graduated from college with a degree in anthropology and met Barack and Michelle Obama. Yet, she says, as a younger girl, she "used to get on people's nerves. I was a non- listener. People had to pull me aside and say, 'You know what, Shureice?'" But through Project Exploration programs, she says she learned "everything's going to work out. No matter how many times you get pulled aside, you're going to get back on track."
    That's a common mission of philanthropic support for youth: helping kids stay on track. In particular, programs for girls strive to ensure that when opportunity knocks in the United States, it knocks for both genders.
    Smith says a disparity in this area began to be recognized in the 1990s, in part because of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. A status report on women and girls was subsequently issued, and a plethora of agencies to support girls and gain parity for them emerged. "There was programming, but something wasn't working," she says. "A lot of girls were falling through the cracks. The statistics weren't encouraging."
    Now, Smith says, things have leveled off. "Things like this come in and out of popularity," she says. "Things wane and wax. The need is not yet met, at all."
    But through efforts such as Smith's, some needs are met. At the Girls for a Change 5th Annual Girl Summit in October, 1,400 girls convened to discuss topics such as creative expression, body image and social change. They went back to their communities prepared to volunteer their time, energy and newfound skills to improve their environments.
    For those looking outside their communities, organizations such as New Global Citizens match students with projects around the world. "Our mission is to get kids involved in global philanthropy," says Ouida Chichester, director of strategic projects. "We're trying to create global citizens, to give kids a new perspective on the world. We help them educate their communities, act as advocates for social issues, learn to use their voices as citizens of the United States and organize fundraisers to support a project.
    "They finish the program changed," she continues. "They know something is in their reach. It's not the dollars they're raising that have the impact, although the money means so much. It's about the impact of the experience on the young people."

Published: December 02, 2007
Issue: December Philanthropy 07