What makes a philanthropist? Google the word and a bevy of images of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey pop-up making us believe that a philanthropist is well known and extremely rich and that to earn the label of philanthropist one must make a huge financial impact to society. Two Chappaqua women, Sue Fuirst and Julie Gerstein, set out to show how even small donations can have a big impact on our community, and while doing so dispel the idea that only the super rich can be philanthropists.
In 2015, Fuirst and Gerstein introduced Spiral Giving as an extracurricular program to the Greeley and Byram Hills high school communities. Their program teaches the fundamentals of philanthropy through a specially designed curriculum that focuses on the value of local impact. “We discuss the needs of our neighbors and donate money to local charities through a grant-awarding process that the students themselves administer,” tells Gerstein. Spiral Giving participants learn to embrace the many needs in and around our community and realize that they have the power to make a meaningful, measurable impact. While doing so, they gain an understanding of the nonprofit and philanthropic landscape of Westchester County.
Fuirst and Gerstein feel that service projects and volunteerism help to teach charity and benevolence, but often worry that these are seen as one-off events–something that is checked off as done, not something that one does. Spiral Giving was formed to help teens identify the social issues that matter to them and to provide them with the tools necessary to make a difference in this increasing backdrop of need.
Leadership Opportunities for Participants
Spiral Giving also provides communication and leadership opportunities and encourages stewardship around giving back. Orestes Rellos, a senior at Horace Greely High School, is a third-year participant and Peer Leader at Spiral Giving. Rellos comments, “Spiral Giving is all about personal growth and leadership development, while learning about the needs of various segments of our community and doing the greatest good by giving back. Giving back takes on even greater meaning and personal application as we, the students, contribute the money that funds Spiral Giving grants. We request, review, and approve grant applications. Spiral Giving is about us, students learning, understanding and then helping our community.”
Over the past four years Spiral Giving has awarded 22 micro-grants to Westchester-based charities and nonprofit agencies. The students recently awarded a grant to Lifting Up Westchester, a nonprofit that assists those struggling to overcome the challenges of poverty, homelessness, and hunger, and provides support that leads to greater self-sufficiency. Anahaita Kotval, Executive Director of Lifting Up Westchester commented, “I love that Spiral Giving engages its student members to critically think about what funding an issue really means and that they are empowering young people to help those in need.” Learning about the various agencies’ budgets has exposed the students to something that was previously unfamiliar.
Bailey Todtfeld, another Peer Leader, says, “Spiral Giving is unique in that it shows us the business side of nonprofits, a side that teenagers rarely see. Learning about nonprofits as a business has taught me the importance of responsible usage of funds and the challenge of sustainability within organizations.”
Inspiring the Next Generation of Philanthropists
At the heart of Spiral Giving is the issue of how parents and educators can work together to inspire the next generation to become engaged in issues surrounding them. Spiral Giving wants the next generation to become invested in their future and to feel empathy for their neighbors. Fuirst believes, “This is often a challenge in communities such as ours, where basic needs are small and personal wants are big. Places where the discrepancy of wealth between towns is often large and affluence can lead to misplaced values.”
Spiral Giving illustrates how individuals can become a philanthropist. By giving teens the power to make an impact at this formative time in their lives, Spiral Giving has the ability to alter the perception of high school students and show how each person has the potential to change a life, strengthen a community, and make an impact on the world.
Spiral Giving’s grants are funded by Spiral Giving 501c3 through student fundraising, collective giving and private donations. Please visit www.spiralgiving.org to donate or learn more.