FOX CITIES’ TEENS SAY MENTAL HEALTH A PRESSING NEED FOR THEIR GENERATION
by Maureen Wallenfang, Women’s Fund Volunteer
What would you do if someone handed you $200? How about $10,000? The catch: you can’t keep the money, and instead must give it to a worthy cause.
The Women’s Fund gave a dozen Fox Cities high school girls control of the purse strings to do just that. In the process, the girls learned about philanthropy and how giving could improve the lives of those around them.
“I assumed that just wealthy people could do that,” said Alondra, a 17 year old junior from Appleton. “But it was amazing to see that just $200 could go a long way.”
“I never knew what the word philanthropy was,” said Maddy, a 16 year old sophomore participant from Neenah. “I found out there’s more to life than sports. It helped me to be more focused on others.”
In 2012, the Women’s Fund started the Girls’ Grantmaking Project as a way to learn directly from local high school girls about issues impacting them. It gave girls the opportunity to help others by awarding grants to local nonprofits. The annual $10,000 Girl-Powered Giving grant is from the Ethel Keller Fund within the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region.
This year, girls came from seven local high schools and each was assigned a mentor to lean on for advice through the four-month program. The group collectively decided that mental and emotional wellness was a top priority for their generation and was worth the investment.
“It’s an area a lot of people struggle with,” said Maddy.
“We came to the conclusion in our group that mental health is not something you take lightly and needs immediate attention,” said Alondra.
The group reviewed grant applications submitted to the Women’s Fund and ultimately voted to split the grant, giving two nonprofits $5,000 each.
The recipients were Exceptional Equestrians’ Mental Health Matters equestrian therapy program for mothers and daughters, and Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative’s Youth eCPR program that supports youth in emotional distress or crisis.
The teens tapped into a significant need by focusing on mental health. Specifically, the girls identified a gap in support for high school girls to take the first step to in getting help with mental and emotional wellness outside of the therapeutic setting. They felt more support is needed to improve access and get assistance up front to build girls’ capacity to address issues that are holding them back before they reach the stage of a mental health crisis. It’s a unique and more preventative way of thinking about mental health.
Each teen was also in charge of disbursing a $200 mini grant. Girls had the option to donate the money to a nonprofit or create a project with the money that could generate a larger donation for a specific cause. In the process, they learned that the community needs lots of things.
Maddy, the Neenah sophomore, used her $200 to buy blank canvas bags. She painted each bag and sold them through schools, her church and her mother’s workplace, raising an astonishing $5,000. With that money, she bought 274 Build-A-Bear Workshop stuffed animals to be given to children and teens admitted to the residential treatment program at Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc.
“They’ll be given to kids admitted to inpatient residential care, the highest level of care. They’re to provide comfort in a difficult situation,” she said.
Likewise, Alondra, the Appleton junior, used the seed money creatively. She bought fabric and made 14 blankets that she donated to Harbor House, a shelter in Appleton.
“The idea that I could donate blankets to the children of women suffering domestic abuse sounded like it could make a small impact in their lives,” she said. “They’d know that someone cared about them.”
Other girls in the group purchased much-needed products for area shelters. That included menstrual period products given to a women’s shelter and blankets donated to an animal shelter.
The Women’s Fund recognizes that to make the best investments for teen girls, we need to listen to them and have them be part of the process in deciding the change that will be most impactful.