A student grant maker team in deep concentration is seen developing its picture of their ideal philanthropist (background left, Rose Griesgraber, front left, Madasyn Hembree, Lexi McQueeey, Chance Vladika and Jadon Meskimen. Photo by Marshall Smith

Fifteen Idyllwild Middle School students volunteered to spend many after school hours learning and practicing philanthropy as part of a Youth Grantmakers program sponsored by the Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and its Idyllwild affiliate, the Idyllwild Community Fund.

This is the first year the Community Foundation has provided grant maker training to middle school students as part of its Youth Philanthropy Initiative. For four years, high school students in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have learned about philanthropy, the vital role it plays in many community sectors, are trained to review grant requests, and finally to award grants to organizations whose work targets teen issues and needs.

Deep in thought, Amya Robinson. Photo by Marshall Smith

Although ICF program organizers Trish Tuley and Dianne Suechika had initially worried about student turnout for this inaugural Idyllwild program, they were ecstatic when 15 eager and interested students began filing into George Companiott’s social studies classroom. “I thought we’d be lucky to get 10,” said Tuley. “And I heard there were 10 more who were interested.”

Middle school teachers Companiott, 6th through 8th grade social studies, and Donna Mercer, middle school special education teacher, recommended the budding philanthropists.

Last Thursday, Feb. 28, the first of six or more two-hour training sessions began after school. Community Foundation Community Initiatives Coordinator Karen Lampert asked each of four teams to draw and describe their ideal philanthropist — who they are, what motivates them to give and to what community sectors they direct their gifts. Student teams worked together to come up with a picture and profile of their philanthropist and then described them to the whole group. Each team member had to participate, in both developing and making the presentation.

“Goals are one of the things we want you to take away from this program, your own goals of how to improve the world,” said Lampert.

Doug Austin, local philanthropist, spoke to the students about his goals and reasons for creating philanthropic funds that benefit the Idyllwild community. “To see another happy is very inspiring,” said Austin. “We [Austin and wife Mary, now deceased] like to do it anonymously.” In funding childhood literacy programs and scholarships, Austin said their motivation was “to see the next generation of children have the same opportunities as we did.”

The students in the program are sixth and seventh graders, 11 to 13 years of age. Eighth graders are not involved this year since the intent is for the grantors to follow the grants the year after they award them. Idyllwild students will follow the same format as the high school students — learning about philanthropy, reviewing grant applications from Idyllwild organizations, and eventually awarding part of a $4,000 fund.

The ICF provided the first of three $2,000 grants to the program, for grant cycles 2013 through 2015. The Community Foundation matched the ICF portion, making a total of $4,000 available for student-awarded grants in 2013.

Students make the presentation to the group (from left, back to camera, Rose Griesgraber, Prasad Peebles and Carmen Pratt. Photo by Marshall Smith