Students prioritize homelessness, hunger, and mental health concerns they want to support

By Sal Tomasello

Sal Tomasello

The Latino Family Fund de Gilroy is a nonprofit organization that raises money and gives back to our community. We enjoy giving grants and hosting our annual Tequila Tasting event, but our cornerstone program is LFF’s Youth in Philanthropy and Leadership (YIP), where our members mentor middle school students in Gilroy.

The year of 2019-2020 LFF Youth in Philanthropy and Leadership Program can be described as one of excitement, involvement, enthusiasm, disappointment, and encouragement.

We began our year very excited for the expansion of our program to our third middle school in Gilroy, Brownell. With this school addition, we now were going to serve 90 middle school students at South Valley, Solorsano, and Brownell. While this was going to present some challenges for the nine LFF mentors, they were challenges that through collaboration with the middle school counselors and administrators led to a very successful YIP year.

We began our year with our traditional student, parent, school, and mentor dinner and orientation. Mentors and school leadership welcomed returning and new students and families to the YIP Program. The mission and goals of the program are shared, along with the highlight of each evening with returning students encouraging all students to be involved and engaged.

Mentors meet the students each month for 45 minutes and guide them through a curriculum that addresses community needs and issues, researches nonprofit organizations that work toward meeting these needs, and the grant giving process.

Ultimately, YIP students advocate and vote for which nonprofits they wish to support with money given to them by the LFF and money they raise on their own. Students prioritize homelessness, hunger, and mental health concerns they want to support. This year our three middle schools selected five nonprofits to receive grants; Community Solutions, The Health Trust, Chamberlain’s Mental Health Services, Operation Freedom Paws, and Eden Housing. Grants ranged between $400 and $500 for each organization.

In addition to learning about philanthropy and giving grants, our students enjoyed a special field trip where they visited and toured Google in Mountain View. This excursion involved meeting and listening to a group of employees from various backgrounds and how their jobs are involved in philanthropic endeavors. The employees shared their personal history, their passion for giving back to the community, and encouraged students to dream big.

The disappointment during this year came when COVID-19 impacted and interrupted our program and all of our lives and changed the ways in which we addressed our end of year events and outings.

An annual field trip to a college or university was cancelled, the students’ opportunity to meet with representatives of nonprofits for an interview and question and answer period was cancelled, as well as all of the face-to-face meetings with the mentors.

However, we ended our year with a collaborative virtual experience with our students. With the help of the Gilroy Unified School District counselors, Webex conferences were held with each school to hold our Certificate of Participation for students and their parents, and student grant presentations to all of the nonprofit representatives. Finally, we were still able to have our end of year celebration online. We ended with enthusiastic student and parent testimonials about their experiences involved with the YIP program.

Looking ahead, our new challenge will be to adapt our program with the decisions that have to be made by the school district for this coming year.

However, what we do know is that we are committed to continue our program with the three middle schools. Our students and community are too important to us and we want to continue to address the needs of Gilroy.

The Latino Family Fund de Gilroy will continue to look for ways to contribute to Gilroy in the years to come.

We look forward to building the YIP program, hosting our tequila fundraiser, and continuing with our community grant cycle. Even though this year was greatly impacted by COVID-19, we were successfully able to expand our Youth in Philanthropy and give out community grants totaling $10,000. We look to the future and we hope to teach the kids to dream big and always look for ways to help out your community.

Sal Tomasello is a retired GUSD teacher and administrator of 39 years and the current chair of YIP.

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