Lakota West senior Anna Szolwinski talks about giving back

Youth in Philanthropy is a student-run and adult-moderated organization housed under the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, says Anna Szolwinski, the group’s chair. The program was created to introduce high school students to the concept of philanthropy and community involvement. CONTRIBUTED
Youth in Philanthropy is a student-run and adult-moderated organization housed under the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, says Anna Szolwinski, the group’s chair. The program was created to introduce high school students to the concept of philanthropy and community involvement. CONTRIBUTED

Youth in Philanthropy encourages local teens to serve others.

We recently spoke with Anna Szolwinski, chair, Youth in Philanthropy (YIP). She talked about her passion for being involved in the community and the value of giving back.

A: I am a senior at Lakota West High School and have lived in the West Chester/Liberty township communities for 14 years. At West, I am a sprinter on the Varsity Track and Field Team, on the leadership teams of Peer Counseling and Spanish Club, and a member of the National Honor Society. I have a passion for community involvement and hope to pursue an undergraduate degree that will prepare me to manage a non-profit organization or perhaps legally advocate for children in the foster care system who do not have representation.

Q: What is your role with Youth in Philanthropy? How long have you served in that role? What are some of your responsibilities?

A: I was elected as chair of YIP this past year. My responsibilities include conducting meetings, overseeing committees, and coordinating fundraisers. I work alongside my fellow executive board members to ensure that our organization's events are successful and will maximize our impact on the youth in our community.

Q: What does philanthropy mean to you?

A: Philanthropy is more than just the act of giving grants or holding fundraisers. It is an experience that teaches the value of giving back and becoming involved in the community.

Q: For those that aren’t familiar with Youth in Philanthropy, can you tell us about the program?

A: Youth in Philanthropy is a student-run and adult-moderated organization housed under the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty. The program was created to introduce high school students to the concept of philanthropy and community involvement. Students attend two monthly meetings in order to plan fundraisers, discuss marketing strategies, and listen to guest speakers. The money generated at our events is given back in the form of grants to groups in our community supporting the youth.

Q: On average, how many participants are involved in the program?

A: We typically have anywhere between 30 and 40 student participants.

Q: How does a participant get involved? Is there an application process?

A: In May of each year, students can complete an application found on the Community Foundation's website. After completing an application, interested students attend an applicant information meeting, at which they schedule an interview with an adult moderator.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for youth to get involved with philanthropy at a young age?

A: I believe that it is never too soon to introduce the concept of philanthropy, in any form. Perhaps a child keeps a separate piggy bank for money that he or she will donate, or a student helps volunteer at a fundraiser. Each of these activities helps teach the importance of giving back and will allow the youth to grow into active community participants.

Q: Why do you believe in the program and what has your experience been like?

A: YIP has been one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences in my life thus far. It has introduced me to the importance of philanthropy and has inspired me to strive for a career benefiting the community. I have been exposed to the many challenges of leadership and have enjoyed working with my peers to improve group participation. YIP has taught me to utilize my connections and abilities in order to help others who are in need.

Q; Why would you encourage youth to participate in the program?

A: YIP is an interactive organization that allows students from different high schools including Lakota East, Lakota West, Ursuline, Mount Notre Name, St. Ursula, St. Xavier, and Moeller to collaborate. Some of my closest friendships have developed from this group, and I believe that the lessons we have learned and the skills we have acquired are indispensable.

Q: How have you seen the participating youth grow and/or benefit by being involved in YIP?

A: I have seen many participants build confidence and character by being in YIP. At the beginning of their involvement, many members sit quietly in meetings and don't volunteer for leadership positions. However, by their junior or senior years, they are in charge of fundraisers and actively speaking in our meetings. I saw this change occur within myself, and I am always excited to see others undergo the same transformation.

Q: How does the grant program work? How are they awarded?

A: At the beginning of the academic year, we send out a grant application to all of the organizations supporting the youth in the West Chester/Liberty community. Based on the applications we receive, we invite representatives to come to one of our meetings and speak on their organization's behalf. In May, after we have listened to all of the potential grantees, we decide as a group where a grant (up to $1,500) will be the most effective. In the past, we have donated to groups including Boys and Girls Club, Reach Out Lakota, and The Parachute Program. The main questions we ask ourselves when awarding these grants are: How does the organization impact the youth in our community, and how will our grant be used to enact further change?

Q: As a takeaway, can you give us a snapshot of the program? How can readers find out more or sign up to participate?

A: The members of Youth in Philanthropy are constantly searching for ways to improve our organization and make our name more well-known in the community. We encourage everyone to visit our website or social media pages to learn more and stay updated on our events.

Q: Occasionally, you have YIP events, can you tell us about those? Do you have any events coming up?

We have many YIP events throughout the year, a few of which are coming up in the spring! So far this year, we have raised over $2,000.

In March, we will be hosting Lakota’s Got Talent, an event focused around the arts programs at Lakota East and Lakota West. The band, choir, and theatre programs from each school will be competing for grants and a People’s Choice Award. In May, we will sponsor our annual Powderpuff Football Game between the senior girls of Lakota East and West.

Two of our previous events were new to us this year and included an Outdoor Family Movie Night at Keehner Park and a CycleGiving ride at CycleBar of Liberty Township. We hope to have another movie night in the spring as well.

Contact this contributing writer at gmwriteon@aol.com.

HOW TO CONNECT WITH YIP