Students spend summer immersed in philanthropy

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Do you remember how you spent your summers while you were in college?

During my college summers, I found myself making extra cash slinging ice cream at the Bruster’s in my hometown of Canton, Georgia and later assembling the most delicious banh mi sandwiches at We Suki Suki in the East Atlanta Village. I took classes like Hydraulic Engineering and Thermodynamics as I worked towards my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering (don’t ask me how that relates to what I do now…). I would also get my first taste of working in a professional setting as an intern at a nonprofit organization known as the Center for Transportation and the Environment (or CTE), where I assisted with the management of federally funded clean energy and transportation projects.

For me, college summers were a time to explore your role in the world and your independent passions without the burden of a full-time college class schedule or the realities of post-college adulthood. Each experience, even those that seemed mundane or irrelevant, helped me to shape a vision of what I wanted for my future. Fast forward five years, and I would again find myself pondering how I could maximize a college student’s summer, except this time I would be on the other side of the table.

In 2018, the Community Foundation formed a partnership with State Farm that would leverage our philanthropic expertise and local presence to put on a summer program for college students. This program, known as the State Farm Scholars Philanthropy Program, would take students on a deep dive into the meaning of philanthropy, collaborative grantmaking and meaningful ways of giving back to one’s community.

However, what really made this program special was its hyper-local focus: all of the students were Georgia State LIFT Scholars who attend GSU’s Perimeter College in South DeKalb. Furthermore, the majority of the students also hailed from South DeKalb, having graduated from the local public high schools. Lastly, the grants that they would be tasked with awarding had to serve South DeKalb communities, because who better to make decisions on South DeKalb projects than the young adults who call it home?

This summer, I had the privilege of planning and leading the second iteration of the State Farm Scholars Philanthropy Program. We had 12 students join us for the ride, which consisted of four full-day workshops throughout June and July. In these workshops, students reflected on their own values and ideals through activities like Giving Cubes. They participated in panel discussions, soaking in the wisdom of philanthropic leaders like Dr. David Ballard as well as nonprofit leaders like Sharon Steele of the DeKalb Habitat for Humanity. They were also trained on the art and science of grantmaking and tasked with leading site visits!

All of this learning and skill building culminated in a collaborative grantmaking process that resulted in $13,771 in mini-grants to nine South DeKalb nonprofits and community groups. These grants will help organizations like the Columbia Alliance for Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative and the DeKalb Library Foundation carry out programs and projects that strengthen and improve communities in South DeKalb.

Summers are a uniquely valuable time for college students to explore the world around them and define themselves in the process. Inspiring philanthropy—the use of time, talent and treasure—is what we do best. To have those two things collide—a college summer and philanthropic inspiration—was magic. Next week, the students will return to their lives as full-time college students, pursuing their career goals in fields like fine arts, psychology and engineering, but rest assured, it will be with a greater eye towards giving back and philanthropy.