Knowledge leads to compassion

Surf Coast Secondary College Sip Larger

Sometimes there’s only one barrier stopping young people making a difference in our community: a lack of knowledge.

This was the powerful lesson learned by Surf Coast Secondary College recently through this year’s Schools in Philanthropy program. The program, established by the Geelong Community Foundation in 2011, allows VCAL students to work with community organisations that have applied for grants and learn about philanthropy, social awareness and community leadership.

“It was a real reality check,” says student Shari Smith. “Many of us didn’t realise there were people just down the road struggling with poverty. It really changed our perspective on our community and made us want to do something to help.”

Luci Reuben, the school’s VCAL Curriculum and Assessment Pathways Leader, says the program showed first-hand how ‘knowledge leads to compassion’.

“It really highlighted how socially and community minded our young people are when they become aware of what’s happening around them,” she says. “It was incredible to see how naturally compassionate they are. Nothing was forced. They really want to help if they know how.”

As young grant makers the students applied their skills in assessing grant applications, interviewing representatives from the community organisations who have applied for grants, and making sound, values-based judgements about these applications. The total of the grant amounts requested by the organisations always exceeds the amount available, therefore the students needed to carefully evaluate the requests in order to make informed decisions about how the funds should be dispersed.

The opportunity to work with real organisations in the community was key for the students’ sense of achievement.

“Because we knew these situations were real and not just made up for the curriculum, our whole class had the sense that we were actually doing something to help,” says student Abi Mchugh. “We were proud of ourselves and felt like our hard work paid off.”

Luci agrees. “I think their passion stemmed from this being real money and real people. They took it very seriously and were so thoughtful about every step.”

Student Levi Watson was amazed and impressed by the number and diversity of people the local community organisations they worked with can help. “They have a wide scope and are really making a difference,” he says.

At the end of the program, the students made a formal presentation to the Foundation Board where they made grant recommendations, delivered their rationale and reflected on their learnings. For Luci and the Foundation, this presentation was a huge highlight.

“The students were so confident and proud of themselves because they felt a great sense of ownership over the decisions they made with the money,” Luci says. “It was very impressive and moving.”

Another positive result of the program is the number of students who have become interested in philanthropy as a career.

“Most of us didn’t know that this could be an actual job,” says student Naomi Lahiff. “It’s opened our eyes to the ways we could make a career out of making a difference.”

Overall, the Schools in Philanthropy program is a true testament to the notion that knowledge can lead to compassion, especially in young people. Are there young people in your life who could make a difference if they just knew how?