NELDON: Teenagers can teach us a thing or two about philanthropy

“I hope this doesn’t give me acne.”

The words, spoken by a young female somewhere to my right, set off a wave of nervous giggles as I navigated a room blindfolded in a sea of teenagers.

We were each blindfolded, shuffled around given numbers, and then asked to put ourselves in numerical order without speaking or seeing one another.

Ten minutes later, with the blindfolds off, a dozen high school students discussed the importance of proper communication and planning, and how both could have helped the team building activity we had just done.

I was so impressed by the group of students assembled for Michigan Gateway Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council annual training. These adolescents worked through problems many adults could not sort out, and recognized quickly two important life lessons.

YAC is made up of students from Brandywine, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Niles high schools. Students work together monthly to award grants, develop funds, volunteer and engage with the community.

This past Sunday, this group gave up three precious hours of their weekend to learn about the pillars of this organization, bond as a team and plan for the year ahead.

I was amazed!

While these students spent three hours learning, I spent virtually three hours in a prolonged state of deja vu, transported back 10 years to my own days serving on YAC. In the same room more than a decade ago, I endured the awkward hum of fellow teenagers still developing social skills, trying to get to know virtual strangers. I remember absolutely dreading any time I was asked to speak out loud or get out of my comfort zone for team ice breakers.

Ten-plus years later, serving as a co-advisor for the group on the outside looking in, I was so impressed by these youngsters’ ability to overcome the awkwardness, push through the barrier, make new friends, and then go one step further to begin planning for the work they could do together.

If you remember your own days coming of age, you know this is no easy feat. Comfort zones are extra padded in our teen years, and schedules are jam packed around busy school weeks.

As adults, we often get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget how important it is to give back when we are able. We hide behind excuses of social anxiety, too much work, family obligations — all of the above.

The teenagers in YAC have plates as full or fuller than our own. They juggle homework, school days, college classes, sports, extra-curricular activities, college applications, scholarships, social lives and so much more, and still found time to carve out three hours to better not only their communities, but themselves.

We have a lot to learn from these young people, and I hope you’ll join me in following their lead.

Ambrosia Neldon is the general manager at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7700 or by email at ambrosia.neldon@leaderpub.com

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