When one thinks of teenagers, budding philanthropists is not always the first image that pops into your head.
But Enloe High School in Raleigh is teaching students to be leaders in philanthropy and how to equitably address issues affecting their community. Enloe Charity Ball is a student-run organization that partners annually with a nonprofit to raise money and awareness.
Each year students vet applications from nonprofits and conduct site visits as part of their process to select an organization to partner with and raise funds for. They take on all aspects of running the Charity Ball and other fundraising events within a three-month timespan, learning about nonprofits, philanthropy, development, event planning, publicity and more along the way. Students further develop a relationship with the partner organization through volunteering.
Chania Wilson, a second-year dance teacher at Enloe, is director of the Enloe Charity Ball Fund. She says Enloe’s students prove that young people can take on much more than they are given credit for.
“They are so, so committed,” she says. “They know the impact their making. When people talk to them, they are expecting teenagers but it’s like talking to adults. These are kids doing not kid things.”
The Enloe students say adults frequently underestimate them.
“We’re doing things that people never think teens can do, and we make an impact in the short- and long-term,” said Damarion King, this year’s vice president of logistics for Charity Ball.
Their work culminates in a dance for more than 1,300 Wake County high school students, held last month at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. There, students presented this year’s partner organization, Alliance Medical Ministry, with a check for $180,000, handily surpassing their goal of $175,000. NCCF manages their donations and disbursement, and we are proud to support their efforts.
Michelle Zechmann is CEO of Haven House Services, which was Enloe Charity Ball’s 2021 partner organization. She says it is a model for organizations seeking to have a transformative impact on a nonprofit.
“Hundreds of youth not only want to raise money for us but really engage in our mission through volunteering,” she says. “They are a purpose-driven group. They really dig in, ask questions, and want to be able to communicate to their entire student body what their charity of choice is all about.”
The skills young people gain from participating in philanthropic community endeavors is invaluable, says Eric Rowles, founder of the NC Youth Giving Network and who has facilitated youth philanthropy programs for two decades.
“They walk away with a better sense of community and ownership, and a greater skillset to navigate the world they’re coming up in,” he says. “They learn how to reach consensus and that there is something bigger than them.”
Jason Okoro, an Enloe student who served as the vice president of finance for the Charity Ball, says he learned collaboration of a large group is key to success.
“It takes a lot of small steps to reach our big goal. Each of these things are small steps to reach our end goal,” he says.
The Enloe student leaders say being involved in Charity Ball has opened their eyes to systemic, institutional problems in their own backyard and the impact of the investment of both time and money. They say their involvement has influenced their career paths and they hope to be in future roles where they are in service to people and create positive change.
Wilson herself is an example of how that can happen. An Enloe graduate who participated in Charity Ball when she was in high school, Wilson says being given such an adult opportunity at a young age had a great influence on her path.
“Everything about teaching here is full circle,” she says. “There’s no experience that I’ve had like Charity Ball since I’ve been a part of it. It’s so rewarding, and it’s influenced every choice I’ve made over the last five years.”
Generation Z has grown up with community service embedded into their world, such as being a graduation requirement, and have a greater understanding of giving back and what it means to be a “philanthropist,” Rowles says.
“They’re wired for this for providing service and they are demystifying that word,” he says. “Philanthropy is not what a millionaire does. They understand it is to serve and give back.”