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Youths find a way to give back to their communities

Riding the coattails of the season of giving, a group of youths from around Waterloo Region are stepping up their social responsibility. It’s an effort that will carry over well past the holidays.

Modeled on initiatives such as We Day and Free the Children, the new group aims to rally youth together to get involved with the causes they are most passionate about. SVP Teens is a branch of Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region, an organization that collects grant funds for non-profit organizations including the Woolwich Counselling Centre.

“Right now, what we are hoping to help out with is underprivileged kids in high schools and people in the community in general who can’t afford to play sports or any other extracurricular activity,” said the group’s chair, Matthew Caputo of St. Agatha.

Like many of the kids involved, Caputo, who attends Waterloo Collegiate Institute, has watched his parents’ involvement with SVP with great interest. He and the others jumped on the chance to flex their philanthropic muscles with an issue that is dear to their hearts.

“Many of us have been friends for a while. Many of us have parents who have been part of the SVP adults group, and I think our parents have instilled in us the idea that it’s good to help out in the community. That’s something we’ve always had in the backs of our minds. Since we already knew so much about it from our parents, we all thought it would be a good idea,” he explained of how the group came together.

Holding regular meetings at each other’s homes, the youths involved, students from Grades 9 through 12, hail from Kitchener, Waterloo, and Wilmot Township.

“It’s something we are all passionate about. We are all in high school and we wanted to do something we were all interested in. That was the first idea that popped into our minds,” said Caputo.

The idea is to network with charities whose goals match those of SVP Teens’ and present the programs with grants, much like SVP Waterloo Region. The teens have already started fundraising with proceeds from a lemonade stand at November SVP event and are looking for suitable candidates.

Just as in the parent organization SVP Teens funds may find their way into diverse charities with various programs.

“The teen group follows the same model as SVP does. We give unrestricted grants. So we don’t necessarily, say when we select the charities that they have to earmark the funds for specific projects. We trust that the charity already knows what they need to spend their money on. Because we are volunteering with them we’ve got a good sense that they are using the funds wisely,” said Andrea Bocking of Social Venture Partners.

A hands-on approach to making a difference is just as important as donating funds, and the former is a key aspect of the teen organization that will continue its efforts long after the glow of the holidays is past.

“The thing that’s different about SVP Teens is that not only do we raise funds but we actually donate our time and get involved with those charities,” Caputo said.

With many youth organizations in areas surrounding the Region of Waterloo, such as Free the Children and We Day to name a couple, how big is the need for a local effort like this?

“Well, this is where we live. If we want to continue having a nice life here in Waterloo, Cambridge, wherever it is, we should give back and especially for future generations as well,” he said.

In the interest of fostering trust among members and keep their goals manageable, the group is keeping their numbers low for now. They still welcome any regional youths wanting to join the cause.

Once the group decides on an area of focus, SVP Teen will send out applications to local charities asking for letters of proposal. The applications will then be reviewed by SVP Teens, Caputo explained.

“We just want to see some sort of difference in the community and since we visit the charities, we want to see them put that money to good use and see how our contribution can really make a difference.”

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