The Future Philanthropists of the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation held their first annual awards ceremony, the culmination of six months of hard work by fifteen local high school juniors.
The goals of the Future Philanthropist program are to engage the teens directly in the role of philanthropic leadership, to involve them as decision makers and to provide opportunities for research and evaluation of the impact of their decision-making.
All of it takes place under the watchful eyes of volunteer mentors.
At the April 27 ceremony, held at the Dominican University Priory, the students announced the winners of a shared $25,000 grant. They are: J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation, , Oak Park Education Foundation, , , and .
Molly Kunkel, a student at Trinity High School, said the hardest part of the program was choosing the winners. Fitting yet another activity into students' full schedules was also a hurdle.
“It was a challenge, I didn’t know how busy I was until I joined this program," Kunkel said. "I went in knowing only the Trinity girls and now have a whole new group of friends from OPRF and Fenwick."
Fenwick students Ian McCullough and Jack Gallo both favored the deliberations that took place over the course of the six months.
“The discussions got really exciting. Our conversations were interesting with lots of insights from everyone," McCullough said.
Anne Weinheimer of OPRF talked about the process of paring down a list of worthy organizations, which included visiting the sites and gathering for grant evaluations.
"We all had seen so many things and we had long debates over the organizations’ merits," she said.
And the high school students weren't just the stars of the show. They also ran it.
OPRF student John Burns welcomed the audience and , also of OPRF, did the introductions.
Keynote speaker Jay Christopher, a local philanthropist with the Christopher Family Foundation, gave some advice to the teens, saying that when it comes to personal satisfaction in philanthropy, personal involvement will trump writing a check.
Looking out at the smiling faces in the room, Christopher commented, “How exciting it must be to see that philanthropy is alive and well in Oak Park and River Forest."
Also participating in the two-year program are Sarah Hasley, Kathleen Planek, Mary Rauh and Maggie Sullivan of Trinity, Nina Rossiello, Eli Stirling and Katy Oldach of OPRF, and Fenwick's Andrew Tonino and Joe Cederoth.
After the grant money was doled out, the students discussed what they might have changed, said Alejandra Ibanez, a program officer with the OPRF Community Foundation.
They also talked about how to raise money for the Foundation's Community Works program, which funded the Future Philanthropists program
"We need to reach the $2 million mark by September 30," she said.
The student group will reconvene next fall for the second year of the Future Philanthropist Program.
For more information on the Community Works Program and how to donate, go to www.oprfcf.org.