Shenandoah Valley teens making a difference for nonprofits helping their peers

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 10:23 PM EDT
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SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. (WVIR) - In the Shenandoah Valley, a group of teens is learning what their peers need, and they’re supporting nonprofits working to meet those needs.

The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge started the Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC) in 2008. Over the years participation has grown, and the students are awarding more money than ever.

“None of us wanna just die out and be a fading light and be forgotten,” said YPC member Graham Duncan. He’s gotten a taste of what it feels like to make a difference. “I had a greater sense of fulfillment than I think I have ever before,” said Duncan.

The Riverheads High School rising senior faced 14 of his peers on the YPC and made his case. “It took quite a bit of convincing. I didn’t really plan a speech or anything. I just kind of spoke you know very, with a lot of emotion,” stated Duncan.

He wanted to support the Jones Garden. It’s a new community garden near Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton.

“I really think people need easier access to health food and this has been something I’ve been saying to my friends to my family,” said Duncan. It’s the same thing he said to get the needed votes.

“They are so passionate about this,” said Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge CEO Dan Layman. “It is fresh for them and they bring freshness to our work because of everything that they’re willing to put into it.”

The Community Foundation started the Youth Philanthropy Council to make teens aware of community needs and get them involved in the grant-making process. From beginning to end, the students do it all.

“They bring in community experts to talk to them about needs,” stated Layman.

They determine their priorities, put out the call for proposals, review the applications, and award the grants. This year, that was $30,500 to a dozen nonprofits, including $2,400 to the Jones Garden, thanks to Duncan.

“I had no idea, but the fact that there’s somebody behind the scenes like rooting for me on my behalf, it surprised me and I really appreciate it,” said Jones Garden founder Naomi Jones.

Now that Duncan knows what it feels like to make this kind of impact, he just wants to do more. “I definitely want to make my time on earth memorable and lasting,” said Duncan.

A full list of nonprofits receiving funds is below.


Staunton, VA – The work of 15 teens in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County culminated in grants totaling $30,500 to 12 nonprofit organizations just in time for the end of the school year.

The Youth Philanthropy Council, a program run by our local Community Foundation since 2008, provides opportunities for high school students to run their own grant-making program. “They bring a fresh and very personal perspective on our social sector and our community,” notes Dan Layman, CEO of the Community Foundation.

In the fall of 2020, the students invited a panel of four speakers to address the impact of COVID-19 on childcare, education, mental health, and homelessness. They learned that many community members were unable to provide for even the most basic needs of their families, especially in the earliest days of the pandemic.

It was this insight that led the YPC to announce that their grants for 2021 would support programs and services assisting local residents with basic needs. The students chose this focus to reduce the stress that the pandemic was placing on families and to provide a more supportive environment for their peers.

The Community Foundation allocates $25,000 for YPC Grants. Additional gifts, including a $5,000 grant from The Shenandoah Valley Kiwanis Club, brought that total up to $30,500. This enabled the YPC to support even more charitable work serving local youth in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County.

“The students were eager to continue the YPC, even though that meant meeting online the entire year. Their commitment to this process has been inspiring. Even as the pandemic transformed their lives, they wanted to continue supporting the work carried out by nonprofit organizations helping their peers. They believe that this is a time to take care of each other,” said Cristina Casado, the Foundation’s former Director of Community Engagement, who has overseen the YPC for the last four years.

The Foundation has seen how deeply the YPC positively influences students’ thinking about community involvement, motivates them to engage with issues that interest them, and prepares the next generation of leaders, philanthropists, and volunteers.

“There is no greater feeling than knowing you positively impacted someone else and that is what I love about YPC. It has made me realize, especially this year, that I want to help others and make the world a better place to call home,” said Graham Duncan who just completed his second year with the YPC.

This year, the YPC was comprised of 15 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from ten local public and private high schools in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, and Augusta County. Each YPC member independently reviewed and evaluated the 26 grant applications. They worked together in teams, and then as a whole, to arrive at a consensus about which organizations to support and how best to allocate $30,500 in available funds between them.

This year’s grant recipients are:

 ARROW Project

 Blue Ridge CASA for Children

 Blue Ridge Legal Services

 Community Child Care

 Iglesia Shalom Nuevo Comienzo

 Institute for Reform and Solutions

 Jones Garden

 Mental Health America – Augusta

 New Directions Center

 Shenandoah Valley Community Focus

 Valley Children’s Advocacy Center

 Valley Hope Counseling Center

Since 2008, the YPC has granted a total of $220,500 to local nonprofit organizations serving youth. Throughout those years, the youth participating in the YPC have consistently recognized the importance of ensuring that their peers have access to programs and services that support their well-being.

Descriptions of organizations and funding available upon request.

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