With $25,000 in hand, a group of Tompkins County students made some difficult and important choices, awarding funding to several community initiatives.

At the 17th annual United Way of Tompkins County Youth and Philanthropy awards, students handed out big checks to eight organizations. The funding will benefit a wide range of projects, like helping homeless youth and funding a free community tax program.

IHS student Celia Brown, center, speaks at the United Way of Tompkins County Youth and Philanthropy awards Dec. 7. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
IHS student Celia Brown, center, speaks at the United Way of Tompkins County Youth and Philanthropy awards Dec. 7. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

The program began as a trial to see if young people could be leaders, James Brown, president of the United Way of Tompkins County, said.

What they found was that young people were leaders, Brown said.

“They just needed a platform, and if we gave them a platform, they would lead us. And so we have done that and we have found a way to see the community differently and to interact,” Brown said.

For six weeks, 18 students from Dryden High School, Ithaca High School and LACS sifted through applications and chose which organizations to award funding to. The awards were announced Wednesday at the United Way of Tompkins County on North Aurora Street.

The program is funded by the Triad Foundation, and is intended to inspire students to take an active role in the community and encourage them to think about philanthropy.

Linda Bruno, a teacher at Dryden High School, has recommended students for the Youth and Philanthropy program for about 15 years and has seen the impact it has on students every year. This year, five students from Dryden participated. Community service is an opportunity for students to grow, Bruno said.

“Community service is so important to our society to be there to help people, to guide people, to give them some ownership of their community, to back the community,” Bruno said.

By being a part of the program, students involved said they learned leadership skills, how to work on a team and also how to budget and read grant requests.

Casey Wetherbee, a senior at Ithaca High School, said the highlight of being a part of the YAP program was the students being trusted to make decisions with the funding.

“It’s important that people recognize the capabilities that we have as young people,” Wetherbee said.

Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Claire Conklin, from Dryden High School, said she enjoyed participating and having a chance to help the community.

Ithaca High School student Celia Brown said learning about local nonprofits and understanding issues in the community is really important and taught her to be more compassionate.

“It taught me compassion, to be more compassionate, to be more aware of what’s going on around us and how with this $25,000 and this huge responsibility like Claire and Medina [Lojic] said, that we can make an impact,” Brown said. “It doesn’t have to be when we turn 18, it doesn’t have to be when we’re officially adults, that it can start now. I think it’s a great experience for anyone who’s interested in being involved in something that’s so pertinent and important to what needs to happen in the future.”

Lojic, a junior at Dryden High School, said being involved in the program also made her more aware of issues like hunger and homelessness in the community.

“There are people at Ithaca High School, Dryden, and Trumansburg and Lansing and all these surrounding communties where people don’t have enough money to make their own lunch to bring it into school, to have a healthy, substantial amount of food to eat, to give them energy to be able to be successful, and I think that’s more relevant than people may understand. There are people I just found out that are sitting with me in class and they can’t afford fresh food, and I think that needs to change,” Lojic said.

Grant recipients include:

  • Alternative Impact – Free Community Tax Program (Volunteer income tax assistance) – $6,000
  • Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga – Transportation Assistance 2016-17 – $4,000
  • Enfield Community Council, Inc. – Youth Paddling Club – $2,500
  • Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca – Open Doors – A program serving runaway and homeless youth in Tompkins County – $3,000
  • Family Reading Partnership – The Bright Red Reading Tent – $1,000
  • Ithaca Community Childcare Center – Outdoor classroom – $4,000
  • Ithaca Health Alliance – Patient database upgrade and server replacement – $2,500
  • The Discovery Trail – Kids Discover the Trail 2016-17 Program Expansion – $2,000

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.