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


Niles City Council approves three social district permits

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Michigan reports 867,341 cases, 18,338 deaths


Dowagiac Police Log: April 30-May 3

Berrien County

LMC offering community ESL classes beginning May 17


Ontwa Township Board tables short term rental ordinance vote


DUS honors retiring faculty, staff members


Buchanan master planning enters home stretch

Berrien County

United Way of Southwest Michigan honors community’s resiliency with annual awards

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Michigan reports 865,349 cases, 18,239 deaths


Cass County 4-H auction items available for viewing

Berrien County

Man who led police on two-state chase headed to prison


Ontwa Township/Edwardsburg Police Log: April 26-May 2


Buchanan Middle School threat under investigation

Berrien County

SMCAA celebrates Community Action Month

Berrien County

2021-22 Strengthening Schools grant cycle open

Cass County

Chase leads to the capture of larceny suspects


EPS reports no threat to students following report of suspicious individual

Berrien County

LMC supports Biden’s plan for free community college


Mobile medical unit providing free ultrasound, STD testing

Berrien County

Niles man, Buchanan woman share experiences from COVID-19 vaccine clinics


Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce celebrates business award winners


Dowagiac Police Log: April 30-May2


Dowagiac National Guard Hosts Food Truck Muster

Brandywine Education

Tri-County Head Start planning new Cass County facility