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Tufts Health Plan Foundation program introduces Cristo Rey students to philanthropy and grants

Posted by Patrick Rosso  April 10, 2013 01:55 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

In Video: Nicci Meadow, director of elder services for ABCD, speaks with students.

It’s not unusual for high school students to take part in philanthropic initiatives, but unlike other programs the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s Future Philanthropists Initiative gives students the power to distribute up to $20,000 to non-profits making a difference in the community.

Now in its second year, the program brings 17 high school students from Boston and the suburbs together for a 12-week course that teaches them about grant writing, philanthropy, health care for older adults, and community engagement.

“This program started out as a way to educate young students about the needs of older adults and philanthropy,” said Stacey Mann, communications director for the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, which was founded in 2008.

Engaging students from Dorchester’s Cristo Rey High School, the Boston Young Muslims Engaging, the Gann Academy in Waltham, the Lexington Christian Academy, and Watertown High School, Mann said the program works to not only connect students with the communities that surround them, but also the ones they may not be as familiar with.

“We really want them to learn about each other, their differences, and how to work together,” said Mann.

On Wednesday the students visited an Action for Boston Community Development location on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester, to hear a pitch from the organization’s director of elder services, about why her organization deserves a grant from the group.

“Just having one person in the life of a child can make a difference,” Nicci Meadow, director of elder services, explained to the students.

Meadow was pitching the students on the organization’s Foster Grandparents program that matches up young children with elderly volunteers. Although the program has been successful, it often struggles to find the necessary funds to pay for the volunteers’ transportation.

“It’s just amazing to help a child find their voice and what we need to do that is get them here,” said Meadow.

The students toured ABCD’s facility and spoke with program participants, debating amongst themselves if the program would benefit from the money. Eventually the students will review a number of submitted applications and make their decisions in May.

“I wanted to do something that would get me out of my comfort zone,” Leslie Pena, a 17-year-old Cristo Rey student, explained. “It’s interesting to see how the programs work and I learned a lot about the different organizations.”

Katherine Lantigua, a 16-year-old student from Cristo Rey, said she felt like she could make an impact through the program.

“I feel like I have a lot of responsibility in my hands,” said Lantigua. “It’s a privilege that I’m able to do this and have the power to really help.”

Other participants said the program is eye opening especially as they begin looking at colleges.

“I love helping people, but I don’t know what I want to do,” said Ligia Flores, a 17-year-old Cristo Rey student. “I feel like I’m meant for this. This gave me a new perspective on non-profits.”

Wednesday’s stop, however, isn’t the only non-profit that will receive a visit and possibly some funds from the students.

Before the students make a decision about how and where to split up the money they will visit a number of different organizations including those that work with the homeless, health issues, and childhood development.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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