Archives For May 2012

Lives Transformed through scrumptious cooking

Twenty-two year old Aquila just graduated from college and will soon begin a job at the luxurious Seaport Hotel overlooking Boston Harbor.  She worked there last summer and has acquired a wealth of other valuable food-service experience.  It’s hard to believe just six years ago she was doing poorly in school, lacked motivation or direction, and emphatically did not want to go to college.

But with help from the Boston nonprofit, Future Chefs, Aquila was able to turn her life around.  And she is hardly alone.  On Wednesday, I attended a dinner celebrating the newest crop of young people to graduate from its program in which chefs at local restaurants provide mentorship aimed at getting these kids to hone the skills needed for kitchen work, develop a strong sense of responsibility and discipline on the job, and feel confident in their own abilities.

As I applauded after hearing the personal accomplishments of each of these remarkable young people being honored, I couldn’t help but wonder where they might be without Future Chefs.  Many of them come from low-income families, which often lack the resources and connections to help their kids successfully transition to adulthood.  Future Chefs provides a second chance for these kids, each of which is following in Aquila’s footsteps on their way to a bright future.

Tomorrow’s philanthropists fuel economic opportunity in greater Boston

Since I am someone who cares a lot about both education and charitable giving, it’s hard to imagine a moment that could possibly top yesterday’s breakfast – and it’s not because the food was especially delicious.

The breakfast was second billing to the main event: the students in my Nonprofit Giving class at Framingham State University held a ceremony in which they reflected on their experience in the course and honored the two organizations they chose to fund.  (See my previous post about the class.)

Students as philanthropists?  How can that be?  The class was one of a growing array of similar courses around the country.  The idea is simple yet revolutionary: a foundation puts up the money and the students figure out how and where to allocate it.  Along the way, they learn about pressing community needs as well as the nuts and bolts of grantmaking, such as how to read a funding proposal and conduct a site visit.

My course was funded by the Highland Street Foundation; we had $5000 to give away to nonprofits in Massachusetts.  Highland Street supports similar courses at other schools across the state too.  The Learning by Giving Foundation also funds many such courses at colleges and universities around the U.S.

Any teacher would have been incredibly impressed by the diligence with which the students engaged in a semester-long process in which they ultimately arrived at the decision to split the money evenly between two organizations, Families First, and Resiliency for Life.  The former provides parenting skills to low-income adults; the latter assists academically struggling high school students.

Yet the emotional power of yesterday’s entirely student-run ceremony brought me an even deeper sense of satisfaction at what this course meant to so many of its participants.  With poise and sincerity, many students spoke about how meaningful – and in several cases, life-changing – the experience was for them.  To learn about a subject that touches their passions while being able to do their small part in tackling economic inequality in American society was transformative for them.

Even more significant than knowing I played a role in enabling students to have this profound learning experience is another realization: many of them plan to work in the nonprofit sector after they graduate.  The future of philanthropy suddenly seems a bit brighter!