It’s a rite of the fall season, like football and foliage, when the CFO’s Youth Empowerment Project chapters gather at Drury University to share ideas and hear words of inspiration.
The CFO hosts 38 YEP chapters for high school and middle school students around the Ozarks. The goal is to create young philanthropists through a combination of education, fundraising, grantmaking and service learning.
This year’s keynote speaker was Five Pound Apparel’s “Director of Awesomeness” (and founder) Bryan Simpson, who related his unusual path to becoming a successful social entrepreneur in Springfield. He chose to major in business to take classes with his friends; he bought a screenprinting machine online with no real idea of how to work it; he started his business in a location zoned residential; and he opened his first retail location without a firm business plan to pay the rent and start-up costs.
Despite those challenges, though, he persevered and now has two Springfield locations – and gives back, not only in Springfield but around the world. A percentage of his sales helps support feeding programs here and abroad and he attributes some degree of his success to the fact that customers like the idea of paying for a product that will pay charitable dividends.
“We’re a for-profit business, just like any other clothing store,” he told the group. “But we have a parallel goal to benefit people through our sales.”
The students also participated in a series of break-out groups that focused on topics such as community outreach projects, great fundraising ideas, developing community leadership and developing special projects like a greenhouse in Skyline and a local currency to use in Purdy.
There’s a saying in the community foundation world that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. The same can be said for the place-based characteristics of this group – when you’ve seen one YEP chapter, you’ve seen one YEP chapter. But what works in one community may well work in another and therein lies the benefit of this annual gathering of youth leaders across the Ozarks.