YEP Conference Cultivates Home-Grown Leadership

Nearly 200 students involved in the CFO’s Youth Empowerment Project attended the annual conference at Drury University today for ideas and inspiration to take back to their communities as youth philanthropists.

Keynote speaker Leah Hamilton, executive director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council, recounted her experience growing up in Springfield, attending Kickapoo High School, and then exploring the world before returning to her hometown.

She said she looked forward to getting away, first to the University of Kansas, and then to the  Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on a Rotary scholarship for post-graduate studies in music.

After pushing through some initial homesickness and depression at being so far away from family and familiar surroundings, she realized that’s how growth occurs.

“I thought, wow, I’ve really stretched myself,” she said. “I had to ask myself  ‘who am I and what do I want?’ It’s important to set those goals for yourself so you don’t feel really lost.”

Though she began her graduate work with the idea of a performing career, she eventually realized she was more interested in making a broader impact. And she was ready to come home.

“Being a performer is all about you,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want that. I love to make change in the community.”

She wrapped up by suggesting three traits the youth philanthropists should consider as they evolve into leadership roles – honesty, humility and, perhaps most importantly, humor.

“There are a lot of things that are going to happen to you,” she said. “They are going to be awkward; they may even hurt a little … But you got to laugh it off. You just have to make it work.”

Following Hamilton’s remarks, the conference broke into small-group sessions to brainstorm on a number of topics, ranging from fundraising and event ideas to grantmaking programs. By the time it ended, the students were ready to return to their schools with fresh ideas for incorporating youth philanthropy into their schools and communities.


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