One Passion at a Time

What happens when you offer a middle school student $500 to do some good?

That is the essential task at the heart of an innovative initiative called the Adam Hanson Youth Philanthropy in Action (YPIA) program, created by the Community Foundation Ocala/Marion County’s Nonprofit Business Council (NPBC).

Walker Harrell was a 7th grade student when asked to consider how to spend his $500. But he wasn’t thinking about what “good” the money could do for him. Students join the program to give the funds away to a worthy cause. Walker chose a cause most dear to his heart—the Humane Society of Marion County. YPIA is a nonprofit initiative of the Community Foundation that works with public and private middle schools to educate young people on what it means to be a philanthropist— and how they can be one too.

Since 2011, YPIA has partnered with more than 10 local schools, including Osceola Middle School, Redeemer Christian School and Belleview Middle School.

“We teach, on average, 100 students per year the differences in nonprofits, for-profits and government sectors,” explains Director of Strategic Communications Allison Campbell.

Meeting once a week for six weeks, students discover local philanthropic organizations and discuss how to get involved in the community as a student.

“We would start our meetings each time by taking out our homework that was assigned to us from the last meeting and having a discussion where our mentor answered questions we had,” Walker recalls. “Some students would share what they found with the class.”

One of the things that surprised Walker throughout the program was seeing how these philanthropic organizations help communities. He learned that donations, memberships and fundraisers all play significant roles to drive a nonprofit’s effectiveness.

Students learn about the history of philanthropy in context of their own interests and passions while honing their communication skills. A crucial element of the program is the personal mission statements students create and present to the class, based on one of their passions. These mission statements are “not just what they believe but what they are going to do about that belief,” Campbell offers.


I found it fun to think and learn about helping the community in the areas of my personal interests.
- Walker Harrell

They also learn to budget. Classmates divide into groups with similar mission statements and work together to design “case for support” presentations to give to the class at the end of the program.

“We were told when we were assigned the project that we were given an imaginary $500,” Walker says. “We had to explain what that $500 would go to and be used for if it was given to the organization with the

same mission as us.”

Students then vote  organization in need through their advocacy but the joy that comes from giving back. Aligning the students’ interests with the missions of the charities provides a fun way for them to connect with local nonprofits and understand how they impact the community.

“In its simplest form, philanthropy means ‘for the love of humanity,’” Campbell asserts. “While

we are educating middle school students about their community, we

on these presentations and the winner receives an actual grant for $500 from the Community Foundation to go towards the winning student’s chosen nonprofit.

Working together to create a presentation are ultimately teaching them what it means to care about something or someone beyond themselves—that’s the essence of philanthropy.”

Campbell says that of the more than 1,000 students who have persuasive enough to convince the class to vote for him was Walker’s favorite experience in YPIA.

“I found it fun to think and learn about helping the community in the areas of my personal interests,” Walker reveals, “which I had never thought about to this extent.”

Walker’s hard work paid off. His mission statement was to help homeless and abused animals find a loving home and he won $500 for the Humane Society of Marion County last year.

“I supported that they do not kill any animals in their shelter,” Walker states, “But I knew this caused a need for more resources in the shelter, which the $500 would go towards.”

YPIA strives to impress upon middle schoolers not only how they can make a difference.  “74 percent have said they learned more about our community, 66 percent said they learned what they care about and 66 percent said they are planning to volunteer for a specific cause.”

As a result of the students’ efforts over the past 10 years, the Community Foundation has granted more than $23,000 to local nonprofits throughout Marion County.

More than just learning about the importance of philanthropy, these young people are seeing firsthand how they can make a difference in their community—no matter their age.

To learn more, visit philanthropy-in-action

Posted in Community Spotlight

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