By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

Casie Conley, Madison Kindred,      Olivia Scott, unknown friend, Margo McKinney, Emilie KindredLily Erlewin started going to Women’s Fund and Hancock County Foundation board meetings at a young age. She tagged along with her mom and observed the goings on. Now at 16, she sits at the table and chairs the Young Women’s team, a committee of the Women’s Fund of Hancock County.

The Women’s Fund, a giving circle, was established in 2007 as a fund of the Hancock County Community Foundation, and since its inception, has encouraged adult women to sponsor girls, ages 10 to 16.

Madison Kindred, 14, was 10 when she joined. And it didn’t take long before, Lily, Olivia Scott, 15, and Madison carved out a niche and formed the Young Women’s Team committee.

“We want to get new generations in. We’re working to bring people our age in and get them involved in what we’re passionate about,” said Lily.

The teens offer assistance to the adult women in a variety of ways. They help promote the work of the Women’s Fun in their own circles, they take on projects of their own, they help recruit other young women, and, even though their financial resources may be limited, contribute their own real dollars to the Women’s Fund.

Hancock County is one of 35 community foundations in the state that has a youth philanthropy program. Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana (YPII), a statewide organization/network, supports these efforts by providing resources, training and technical assistance.

In Greenfield, these teens have not only seen their efforts make the community a stronger place, but they have witnessed what a determined group of women, such as the Women’s Fund, can do.

In 2013, after a year of study, the Women’s Fund was the catalyst and started fundraising efforts to open a women’s resource center. The Women’s Resource Center, a nonprofit, opened last summer to provide a single point of contact for women in the community who need help. The center provides programs like financial counseling, mentoring and tools to help women who are facing a variety of challenges.

To learn more about YPII, a signature program of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, visit its website.

“The Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana (YPII) conducts an annual survey with the Community Foundations that have a youth philanthropy program. The collected data is used to “tell the story” of the work and impact of youth philanthropists around the state. It also serves as a tool for what is trending within the Indiana programs.”

By the numbers for 2013

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From the beginning, the three teens spent time making presentations in the community telling other groups about the center and helping to support the effort financially.

“We focus on women who really need help, and we call these women, Jane Does. These are women who have lost their jobs or are in a difficult situation and need resources to get jobs or get housing or really get just anywhere that they need to get,” said Lily.

Because of confidentiality, none of the teens have direct contact with clients, but know their efforts are making a difference. “When I give to this organization I’m confident that it’s doing good,” said Olivia.

“I feel more connected to my community, and I feel like I actually have a part in this charity. I feel like if I was just helping out, and I actually wasn’t donating, it would be harder to ask other people to donate. I think if I cannot or I don’t want to do it myself, there’s no reason to ask the other people to. I really think I should practice what I preach,” said Lily.

Across the state, young people involved in YPII’s programs are learning about giving and serving in their local communities. Hoping to inspire lifelong giving, the effort was begun in Indiana in 2001, and works with a network of over 40 organizations. In 2013, young people statewide raised $22,116.

Along the way, Lily, Madison and Olivia have not only learned about giving and serving, but have developed clear definitions of donor and a philanthropist and can cite the differences.

“It is the spirit of giving. Reaching out to someone who needs you, and building community,” Olivia said. “I think that donor receives more recognition. You see a list of donors when you go to programs. You don’t necessarily see a list of philanthropists.

Lily said that she’s learned that anyone can be a philanthropist.

“As long you’re putting an effort and it’s making a difference and you can really see that difference. To me a donor just gives time and money. But I think a philanthropist really has his or her whole heart and soul into it. And really thinks deep down in our morals that it’s the right thing to do,” said Lily.

During the summer, these teens have thrown their hearts and souls into the Women’s Fund’s annual event, the Power of the Purse (POP). In August, the group will hold its sixth event. It’s an idea that neatly ties giving and the center’s focus together.

“It’s a bunch of people within a community, women specifically, coming together and raising money to donate to someone who really needs it,” said Madison.

The event features a selection of 45 to 50 purses or purse-like items that are filled based on a theme and auctioned off. Both silent and live-auctions raise dollars for the center. The event is limited to 300 women, with a motivational speaker, which has included 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnast, Jaycie Phelps. It is designed as an evening for women to enjoy each other’s company.

The Young Women’s Team committee has sponsored a purse, brought friends and worked the event.

“It’s a great experience. It’s a way to get yourself out there and really understand how money works, and what it means to help someone who’s in need within your community,” said Madison.

But these young women aren’t involved because they want the recognition.

“I don’t want to be called up on stage and acknowledged: “Oh, all these people are doing a great job.” I would much rather know that what I was doing is doing something big,” said Lily. “I would like to know what the charity is doing with my money, but I wouldn’t want a personal recognition.”

Olivia doesn’t think acknowledgement should ever be based on the amount given, but rather the good that is being done. She knows that as a young person her resources are limited, but it doesn’t make her any less committed.

“Everyone was recognized as givers that night. It is a cool feeling to be part of a group,” said Olivia.

And they see the effect personally.

“It helps you find your place in the world. It gets you involved in the community, otherwise you just kind of watch and know it’s happening. But until you can actually experience what that feels like, you have no idea of the kind of impact that you’re making,” said Lily.

“I believe that people say that they want to change the world: ‘Let’s stop starvation, let’s stop wars,’ said Olivia. “But we cannot do anything about that until we solve the problems at home first. People are struggling in our community financially and emotionally. We got to help that before we can think about helping the rest of the world.”

“I absolutely want to stick with this program and watch it grow and blossom. It is going to become something that impacts so many people in the community,” said Olivia.

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