Use personal relationships to encourage a new generation of givers

Published on Tuesday, 8 August 2017 13:25 - Written by KRISTEN SEEBER, Women’s Fund of Smith County

There is an interesting article in the September 2017 issue of The Atlantic Magazine titled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Full disclosure: I read the article on my smartphone, from a link shared by a friend on Facebook. So, no judgments here; merely observations.

The author, Jean M. Twenge, has been researching generational differences for 25 years and noticed a dramatic behavioral shift in 2012 - exactly the same time the number of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent. Twenge calls the generation born between 1995 and 2012 “iGen,” and asserts theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and social media.

After yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, Twenge goes on to note, “The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.”

As these young people prepare to go back to school, many defining experiences await them inside and outside the classroom; online and offline. There will be lessons taught and lessons learned; assignments to complete and rules to follow. Perhaps the best guide of all is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Everyone, deep down, wants to be treated with respect and to feel valued. Young people, too, thrive when they are given opportunities to experience those emotions. Though much of their social life is lived on their phone, teens - like all of us - are shaped by personal relationships. It might be well if virtual spaces, accessed through apps and the web, give way occasionally to real places where face-to-face conversations can occur. This kind of dialogue involves looking someone in the eyes instead of looking at a phone, while talking and while listening.

In the same way, philanthropy is active, not passive, because it requires relationships. There is an exchange between giving and receiving something in return. Here, in our community, high school girls are realizing this significance by participating in G.I.V.E. (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts), a program of the Women’s Fund of Smith County.

Patterned after the Women’s Fund model of collective giving and grant making, the G.I.V.E. initiative offers 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade girls the opportunity to experience the joy of philanthropy. Women’s Fund members mentor these bright young ladies - from different schools and different backgrounds - to come together and share their visions and hopes for a better community. They work, side by side, to raise funds, research local nonprofit agencies, review grant applications and vote on the organization that will receive their annual grant. The Golden Rule takes on new meaning, as they discover what motivates their hearts and minds to become others-oriented. Since its inception in 2014, this amazing group of young women has given $17,500 in grants, impacting four different Smith County agencies and countless lives.

As Twenge reminds us, “The aim of generational study is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be. It’s to understand how they are now.” More often than not, these teenage girls teach us. We learn from them about different ways to advance causes in our community. They are leading philanthropy in new directions, reflecting societal changes. Each has her own giving fingerprint, left on a life touched. A screen is not necessary to feel its lasting mark.

Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a giving circle that awards annual grants to nonprofit programs that bring positive change to the lives of women and children in our community. For more information about its mission and G.I.V.E. (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts), please visit www.womensfundsc.org or email info@womensfundsc.org. The Kick-Off Event for this year’s G.I.V.E. program is Sept. 10.