By Natalie Townsend
Published in the Williamson County Sun February 8, 2015
Women’s giving circle Seeds of Strength has placed the future of a $4,000 donation in the hands of 17 Georgetown teenagers selected to pioneer its Next Generation program. Much like its parent organization, the program will give high schoolers the opportunity to identify areas of community improvement and decide how the money is spent. Membership was not open to all teenagers — the students chosen for The Next Generation were all teacher-recommended. If the teens rise to the challenge, Seeds of Strength plans to offer the program annually.
Seeds of Strength: The Next Generation is the culmination of a yearlong effort spearheaded by board member Barbara Pearce. It was created to engage youth in philanthropy. Seeds of Strength’s Guiding Circle approved its Next Generation last spring. “[Seeds of Strength] wanted to be able to pass on an awareness and some of the wisdom that we have learned since we’ve been in [Seeds of Strength] to the younger generation,” Ms. Pearce said.
Seeds of Strength was created in 2009 to support county non-profits. Charities submit applications and give presentations to Seeds of Strength annually that help members narrow their choices. After site visits, the women vote to award funding. Last year, the organization gave $138,000 to 11 non-profits.
Many of the high schoolers met for the first time Sunday at The Next Generation’s first Philanthropy Summit, held at the First United Methodist Church. “It’s a really neat opportunity, you don’t see a lot of things happen like this very often,” said Caroline Jones from Georgetown High School. “I think it’s important to help our local community instead of always thinking about things that are far away.”
About 10 teenagers attended the almost five-hour session, which included small group discussions and presentations by non-profit leaders Rita Turner of The Caring Place, Andrea Richardson of Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, Rita Handley of Faith in Action, and Jim and Mary Shields of the Christi Center.
Seeds of Strength mentors sat at each table to encourage the initially timid teenagers to discussion. Ground rules were set at the beginning of the summit by Ms. Pearce to ensure a safe environment for diverse opinions and individual expression. “Silence means agreement as we begin to develop consensus on issues” and “Accept that there will be difference of opinion” were written among the short list of rules.
Although at first tentative, the motley crew of teenagers warmed up as introductions and icebreakers spurred the group to interact. The session was the first of several meetings intended to educate the girls about diverse community needs. “What I really want them to get [from Ms. Turner’s presentation] is that many of the families that come into The Caring Place need multiple resources,” Ms. Pearce said. “It’s not like there is a quick fix solution or anything so it’s important that a community has a diversity of support systems available.”
After learning about the county charities, the girls will prioritize community needs and conduct their own research. In March, the teenagers will visit the sites of possible grant beneficiaries. The $4,000 will be awarded April 30. The number of charities that are awarded depends on the teenagers — they can give $4,000 to one organization or four organizations $1,000 donations, Ms. Pearce said. “I worked with young people for 20 years in my professional life,” Ms. Pearce said. “I think it’s rare that there are young people who, when you develop a good process, don’t come through in ways you never expected them to.”