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Teaching compassion and community service to the next generation of givers

A Legacy of Giving works to empower children through philanthropy education and youth philanthropy programs to become more engaged in improving their communities and world. MissionBox co-founder and CEO, Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks to Caroline Page, executive director of A Legacy of Giving, about building the next generation of philanthropists.

What is mission of A Legacy of Giving?

A Legacy of Giving works with teachers and students to encourage kids to understand service, philanthropy, advocacy and receive education on various local issues. We have a framework and a curriculum that teachers incorporate in classrooms, which helps students think about what it means to be a philanthropist at a young age; that’s more than money, your time, talent and treasure. We are currently in 40 schools in Austin, Texas, and 75 percent of those are Title I low-income schools.

How many times do you go into a school?

We go into the schools at the beginning of the year. I have a colleague whose whole focus is on the school, the teachers and those relationships. She is in constant communication with them as support. We go in and do a presentation on ‘who we are’. We talk about what philanthropy means. Our audience ranges from 4th grade through 12th grade, so we tailor the message a bit.

In the fall, we focus on hunger and food insecurity. That’s always been the social concern that we’ve had the students focus on. We kick off with a lesson on the statistics on hunger in Central Texas. The teachers incorporate these lessons on various subjects throughout the fall, and then everything culminates with the Can and Coat Drive that students do on their campuses. At the end of the fall semester we have an event at the food bank and it's a celebration of all these students, from different schools coming together and celebrating their success and efforts.

Why did you pick hunger and food insecurity as your issue?

In the fall, we focus on hunger and food insecurity. That's always been the social concern that we've had the students focus on. Hunger is something that is a huge problem in central Texas. We kick off a lesson on the statistics on hunger in central Texas: "What does that mean?"; "What are other groups doing?"; "What can we do?" This year in the spring, we allowed the students to choose whatever issue they wanted to focus on. We felt like it was really important to give students more ownership, and be supportive.

It’s up to the students and teachers to figure out what issue they want to focus on. We have a showcase in the spring, which is a sampling of all the different schools that come in, to showcase the projects they did. That was where we said ‘voice and choice’ — the students were able to take what they learned in the fall, and then apply it.

What are some other kinds of philanthropic activities that the students get to choose?

At Reagan High School [in Austin, Texas], they put together care packages for their fellow students who are homeless. Through a poll, they figured out how many students within the school actually are homeless, and put together care packages for them. At Hill Elementary, they did a composting project. At another school they had a 3D printer and printed prosthetic hands for people. There was a school that focused on animals, and they made dog toys. Everyone in the school participated, and then they donated them to a local shelter. We had the showcase in March, but some of them are still working on their advocacy campaign projects as the school year winds down.

We are launching a new summer program this year for middle and high school students and will educate them on various local issues. Again, we want them to think about, ‘What can I do? How can I be involved in this issue? Who do I care about?’ then instilling that compassion and empathy and other important soft skills in young people.

That is really exciting from the point-of-view of creating early on, people who care about social change and who want to give back.

I started in August as the executive director. I’ve spent a lot of time getting up to speed on what we do and how we do it, then thinking about how we can grow and improve. The good thing is that we align really nicely with the schools' focus on whole child development, social and emotional learning. I think we will be in some other school districts next fall.

How is A Legacy of Giving funded?

It’s a combination. We’re supported at the district level while the other pilot programs are funded by the school, its departments, as well as individual and corporate donors. There’s the fee-for-service and then there’s just good old-fashioned giving from supporters.

How do the campus liaison and teachers decide on what class to involve in the project?

It depends on the teacher on the campus that opts in to incorporate this into their classroom or their group. This works when you have a principal and a handful of teachers who say, ‘I really see the value and I want to include this in my 5th grade math class, or my subset of student government students.’ It really has to go with the teacher that’s leading.

Are you able to get engagement from all students in the school, including those who might be struggling?

That’s a great question because I was thinking, going into it, ‘Well it’s the student government at a school. Those kids are already probably pretty engaged in what’s going on.’ To answer your question, I actually do think it provides great leadership opportunities for some kids who don’t typically have those leadership opportunities.

At our fundraising breakfast I met with a counselor from another low-income school who works with a group of special needs students — kids who really struggle in school — who come from challenging backgrounds. She said it gives them an opportunity to contribute, where they are typically recipients. It gives them an opportunity to lead where they’re not the ones who are leading on the campuses. And she said, "At the food bank when I saw one of my students, who just really struggles, loading coats in the truck with the person on staff — I’ve never seen them take a leadership role like that, and really feel like they were fitting in."

The hope is certainly that it’s involving kids, who are typically not raising their hands, to be the leader of the club. I’m sure it varies campus to campus, but that is the goal, and I do think that it happens and it is positively affecting campuses and groups of students in that way.

When you’re looking for new things to try, where do you look for guidance or ideas for what might work?

What’s been helpful for me, is talking to other organizations in Austin. Not necessarily groups that are working with exactly the same focus, but talking to other partner organizations that work with students, like Urban Roots, Junior Achievement, No Place for Hate and so on. It's always helpful because there are challenges when you’re talking about working within schools. You’re working through the teachers; you’re dealing with the school. I think what has been helpful is talking to other groups that are working within schools, as well, to figure out how they navigate their challenges. But there’s not a lot to look to. And it’s also hard because i’m trying to focus on our metrics and data. That’s a hard thing to measure.

How do you measure even a slight shift in a mindset about how a youth looks at their community and how they feel about social change?

It’s been a challenge, especially when we’re working through teachers. We know the numbers: the number of kids; how many pounds of food they collect; what projects they do. What we’re trying to work on is: ‘What are the right questions? What’s the right survey?’ I’m not an expert on surveys, so we’re trying to figure out who we can talk to that could help us work with school districts, knowing that there’s a certain process that they want things to be done. It’s a long term investment.

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