Growing change agents

Solid Ground’s September 2012 Groundviews newsletter highlights our Penny Harvest program through the experiences of program alums, and the Big Picture News insert introduces our new leadership. To read past issues of Groundviews, please visit our Publications webpage.

Penny Harvest students at Washington Middle School circa 2008

Penny Harvest students at Washington Middle School circa 2008

Solid Ground’s Penny Harvest doesn’t fit neatly into a thematic box – but this innovative program packs a powerful impact engaging young people (ages four to 18) in philanthropy and service learning. Youth collect tens of thousands of dollars in coins, then carefully review and make grants to causes they care about (such as housing for people experiencing homelessness, cleaning up Puget Sound, promoting animal welfare, and many other efforts).

Penny Harvest strives to nurture a new generation of caring and capable young people who strengthen their communities and create personal and social change. With a strong emphasis on social justice, the program gives students of all backgrounds the opportunity to come together and make a difference – creating a generation of leaders who think critically about community issues and take action.

To paint a picture of the long-term impact Penny Harvest can have, we spoke to three program alumni who served on a Penny Harvest Youth Board in 2005 – now young adults – to find out what their experiences with the program mean to their lives today.

Taken back in May 2005, Penny Harvest Youth Board members (l to r) Leah Heck, Ana Lucia Degel & Maddy Carroll-Novak

Taken back in May 2005, Penny Harvest Youth Board members (l to r) Leah Heck, Ana Lucia Degel & Maddy Carroll-Novak

Leah Heck
When she first got involved with Penny Harvest, Leah says, “I don’t think I really had an understanding of philanthropy. I did have an understanding of community service,” but she adds, “Mostly I associated community service with something older people did.

“One of the main things it showed me was that I didn’t have to wait till I was rich or older, but that I could make an impact already. I could do something. That was very important for me. Penny Harvest helped open my eyes to many things which just aren’t really talked about or, since I hadn’t experienced, I didn’t know about. My involvement has impacted my life in a number of ways. I really enjoyed participating in the Youth Board and everything we did. It is one of the reasons I have become interested in the nonprofit sector and social injustice and how important it is to get involved.”

A recent university graduate living in the Netherlands, she says, “I just started interning at a nonprofit, which focuses on human rights and women. Penny Harvest in a way jumpstarted my career decision. It showed me what is possible and what I can do.”

Damon Arrao
Like Leah, philanthropy was a new concept for Damon prior to joining the Youth Board. “I dabbled in community service and didn’t have a great idea of what interested me. Penny Harvest really enlightened me to what it meant to give back. It wasn’t even necessarily money, but time and empathy towards other people. The idea to me then, and now, of allocating precious time (much less, money) towards good causes is the foundation of community and having a good life.”

He speaks to the program’s equalizing affect and how it shatters the idea that only the wealthy can engage in philanthropy. “I think that’s probably one of the greatest things Penny Harvest does. On the Youth Board, I worked with students from many different socioeconomic backgrounds. Having moved from a low-income part of Portland, Oregon, I participated in philanthropy with students who lived in suburbs, went to private schools or who had the same background as me. The same goal brought us together, and the rest was trivial.”

He says, “During my time at Penny Harvest, I learned well my ability to make the hard decisions and come up with innovative ideas. I’ve been a role model for serving my community, and younger members of my family have followed in my footsteps. Career-wise, at this point I am still undecided, however whatever I aspire to, I know an underlying goal would be to support philanthropic causes and organizations that enrich our communities.”

Ana Lucia Degel
At the other end of the spectrum, Ana Lucia comes from a family that runs its own philanthropic foundation. She says her family’s social ideology taught her, “When you have, you must give.”

However she says, “It was through the experience of Penny Harvest that I really understood more about the process of philanthropy – the difference between advantages that I had, and things that I didn’t really have to consider or think about because it was a given for me. What stood out to me then was the social justice aspect of it.

“Along with that – being 17 years old and feeling angsty, like nobody listened to me – I felt taken seriously by adults. And that sense that you have the power to do something, that adults are going to listen to you – it’s HUGE. When a kid can have that experience, I think it sticks with you for a long time.”

Today, Ana Lucia teaches Special Ed through Teach for America and says that Penny Harvest strongly influenced how she approaches her role. She says, “It doesn’t work when you come in and think that you’re going to transform a community that isn’t your own.” She pushes herself and the organization to “mobilize families and people and students within that community to work together to create some changes” through “true connection and dialogue and listening.”

And creating opportunities to make lasting, positive change is exactly what Penny Harvest does best. ●

For more info on Penny Harvest, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Legal/Penny or contact pennyharvestseattle@solid-ground.org.

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