Start Thinking Locally

By Ashani Kurukulasuriya

My name is Ashani Kurukulasuriya and I am a senior at Holliston High School. This past spring, I served as a Co-Chair of the Needham Youth in Philanthropy program—a program that works to instill in students the importance of identifying community needs and giving back to those who need it. Prior to getting involved with the program, my knowledge regarding poverty in the MetroWest area was not only very vague but also quite inaccurate. [/two_third]

During the first few weeks of the program, I became acquainted with several nonprofit organizations that work to bridge the gap in various areas like mental healthcare, food access, and summer programs for foster children, just to name a few. If I had not had the opportunity to work with other students in the MetroWest area to talk about the local needs and how we can use our time, talent, and treasure to better those around us, I would have missed out on an experience that builds skills that can transcend onto other endeavors.

The YIP program equips students with leadership, communication, and decision-making skills—all of which I was able to utilize this past school year as I worked to start a chapter of a Global Health Society at Holliston High. Going along with the theme of “think globally, act locally,” the club worked hard to tackle issues like human trafficking and food insecurity by starting with small-scale educational presentations and fundraisers to help garner public attention.

The club had initial goals of starting projects overseas and in third world countries; however, after running into logistical problems, the club had to divert their focus on more domestic issues.

The YIP program helped me recognize and reinforce the idea that even the smallest deeds of generosity can have a large impact and that most importantly, we must not neglect giving our attention to issues that occur in our very own backyards. If I had participated in YIP before I launched this club, I would have done things a little differently.

So I ask all of my peers, do you have an idea for a community-driven club or project? Here are some pointers I’ve learned from YIP and from launching this club that can help students who are looking to make a difference in their local communities:

  1. Outline the goals of your club or project prior to discussing it with your school’s administration. Brainstorm ideas with your peers and make sure that the goal is both specific and attainableBig ideas are great, but we should first start small and then work towards big. Remember, even the smallest deeds of generosity can have a large impact. It’s also worth exploring what the needs actually are in your local community. Talk to influencers and nonprofit leaders and find out how you can help in your specific focus area, and then tie your club or project goals into directly solving these needs. We may think we know what the needs are, but these leaders and experts will help direct the conversation.
  2. Gather a group of motivated students who are willing to help start the club or project. Remember, there is power in numbers. Having support from other students will help you get approval/support from teachers and faculty.
  3. Identify a teacher/faculty member that would be willing to serve as your club/project’s advisor. This person should make an ideal mentor for the club members and their projects. It also doesn’t hurt to interview them for ‘the job’. Why are they considering this leadership role? Are they involved locally in the community? If so, how?
  4. After getting approval from your school’s administration, be sure to plan weekly or biweekly meetings with your group to make sure everyone is moving closer towards the goaland set benchmarks for each meeting to keep everyone on track.  
  5. Take the opportunity to identify outside contacts and build relationships with influencers in the community that can help you accomplish your goals. Similarly, partner with other groups and organizations that have like-minded missions. This could provide you with invaluable connections that can help you expand your impact. One question to ask is ‘who is already doing similar work and how can we collaborate for greater impact?’
  6. Have fun with it! Don’t be discouraged if you do not meet your initial goals—that’s okay! Learn from your mistakes and continue to keep making a difference.

Learn more about the Youth in Philanthropy program.


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