Community Memorial Foundation empowers young change-makers

Sadie Springer, Editor-in-Chief

This fall and upcoming year, the Community Memorial Foundation is partnering with Riverside Brookfield High School along with three other local high schools to host their youth philanthropy program, known as Young Community Change Makers (YC2). The program aims to teach junior and senior students about their communities, the role of a non-profit organization, and their own philanthropic identity. As part of the program, students will be able to supply a grant to a non-profit organization of their choosing that improves communal health.

From the sale of the LaGrange memorial hospital in 1995, the Community Memorial Foundation was created. The foundation’s mission is to provide health to those who live and work in the 27 communities in the western suburbs of Chicago, including Riverside and Brookfield.

Program officer Tom Fuechtmann has worked with the Community Memorial Foundation for 21 years, and he is passionate about giving back to our community and getting young people involved in change.

“We believe that if we’re really going to transform our area into the healthiest region in the country, which is our vision, we can’t do that just by giving away grants. We have to create a culture of philanthropy in the western suburbs. We have to get young people interested and engaged in helping our communities be healthier,” Fuechtmann said.

One of the ways the Community Memorial Foundation is promoting this engagement with youth is through sponsoring the YC2 program. It is a 10-session class that takes place in the second semester. Over the course of the class, instructors will be preparing students on how to decide how and where to allocate 15,000 dollars in grant money. The class explores the strengths and assets of our communities, and the role of a non-profit in American society, and pushes the idea that philanthropy is not just for one type of individual.

“So philanthropy, the word means love of humankind. A philanthropist is really someone who gives their time, their talent, their treasure, and their ties,” Fuechtmann said.

RB, Lyons Township, Hinsdale Central, and Nazareth Academy are the four high schools sponsoring the program. There are a total of 60 students accepted from the four schools.
Noticeably, RB has had the least amount of student participation, with only six students attending last year.

“We’re looking for people who want to make a difference. People who want to change the world. You don’t have to be a straight-A student. You don’t have to be a person who has done a ton of volunteer work in your past,” Fuechtmann said.

YC2 is looking for students who can provide perspective in a group setting and have personal growth goals. Additionally, committing to all 10 sessions is crucial, since the curriculum’s lessons build on each other. The foundation hopes to amp up RB recruitment for this year with willing students.

“A lot of the students who go through this talk about it as being a truly transformative program. There’s not many opportunities for young people your age to really be in charge, to sit in a meeting with adults and have them answer your questions. To be in a position of real power where you have money that you get to award and adults want it,” Fuechtmann said

Senior Sam Royer learned of the program last year from a friend. Because of the program, he has gained a new overall perspective on his community and how philanthropy plays a role.

“The program was really really informative. We learned a lot. You think of philanthropy and you just think ‘Oh yeah, that’s good’. And that’s all it is, it’s just surface-level knowledge. But then you really get into the nitty-gritty of it and how you can participate in philanthropy and how philanthropy differs from charity,” Royer said.

One of the big concepts explored in YC2 is the difference between philanthropy and charity. While both are important, charity addresses immediate needs whereas philanthropy is thinking about the root causes of a problem. Philanthropy means thinking about the impact investments have. Since these are real terms that students see in action in their communities, this class affects them personally.

“I just always wanted to be part of something. I felt like it was a great opportunity especially because it was so local to our communities. So I was like ‘What a great way to get involved and actually do something that could benefit people around us,’” graduate of the program senior Sophia Gutierrez said.

Not only does the program teach lessons on philanthropy and provide meaningful context to how it applies to our communities, it also offers an opportunity to learn other important life skills.

“It’s definitely taught me communication skills because it was a program with students from three other high schools. So I didn’t know anyone and I just had to find things in common with them,” senior Paulina Carmona said.

Graduates from the YC2 program have found it to be an enlightening and empowering experience both academically and socially.

“It’s going to be fun. You’re going to meet a lot of people from other schools. You’re going to learn a lot about our communities, about the nonprofit world, and about grant-making. You’re going to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with a group of peers who want to change the world, and you’re going to actually be able to make a difference,” Fuechtmann said.

Applications for the 2023 session are due November 23rd by 5 o’clock. To submit your completed application, you will need to email it to [email protected] Additionally, applications for the YC2 program can be mailed to Daniel Sayas at Community Memorial Foundation at 15 Spinning Wheel Rd., Suite 326, Hinsdale, IL 60521. YC2 hopes to welcome a strong number of RB students into their program.

“It was one of the best experiences that I had out of school, and such an eye opener to what is actually going on around us and the fact that you can actually be a part of the change,” Gutierrez said.