Renee Rees is the kind of person who sticks up for her city. She gets upset when she hears out-of-towners bad-mouth Fresno.
Of the haters, she says: “They don’t know all of the wonderful things that are happening in town.”
I have so much Fresno pride.
She is part of a growing movement trying to make it more wonderful through a yearlong program called Next Generation Philanthropy, focused on mobilizing the “next generation” to get more involved in helping their community. Participants are between the ages of 21 and 40.
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Justin Vartanian, 30, founded the group in 2014. The lack of young people involved in philanthropy had become apparent to the financial planner as he volunteered with a number of Fresno groups.
I really saw the need for our generation to start giving back and really taking the baton from the baby boomers who have been so generously giving their time, talent and treasure.
“If you look around most nonprofit board rooms, it’s filled with lots of gray hairs – and I don’t say that disrespectfully,” the lifelong Fresno resident says. “Our generation needs to step up and learn what we can so we don’t have to relearn.”
The big message: Younger people, who typically earn less money than older colleagues, can and should give back to their communities, too, and their contributions make a difference.
I am around people from age 21 to 40 all day every day, and I find that group of people is stretched pretty thin with building a career and family, but they also have a lot to give.
To that aim, NextGen students attend monthly meetings, listen to guest speakers and take part in community service projects. NextGen is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation (formerly the Fresno Regional Foundation).
“We’ve had some great speakers who teach us about what’s happening in our community,” says participant Marcel Bourdase (among the speakers: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin). “The information we get is so invaluable because we’re so much more informed. It’s a great way to make sure your head is not in the sand.”
The application deadline for the 2016-17 NextGen program is May 7. The cost is $1,000, or $1,500 for a couple. Registration fees go to fund community service projects that participants choose. So far, grants have supported a restaurant renovation, facilitated by the Downtown Fresno Foundation, and a youth philanthropy event. This year’s three NextGen committees – focused on youths and education, revitalization, and family values – will announce the 2016 grant recipients soon.
But the program doesn’t just encourage participants to write checks. Vartanian likes to put it this way: Give your “time, talent and treasure.”
I think the reality is: The younger you are, the more comprehensive your giving should be.
“I really feel like we really need to give our time,” he says. “We can’t just give paychecks. We really need to give our skill set.”
Although, money is nice, too.
While the majority of young adults can’t write big checks, Vartanian says they can encourage friends to also write small checks, and those donations add up.
The momentum behind what is going on in Fresno right now is really exciting.
And people can believe in Fresno, like Rees. The director of business development for U.S. Legal Support and her professional photographer husband, Kevin, have participated in NextGen for the past two years – and moved from north Fresno to downtown Fresno last year – because they want to help the city thrive.
“I’m what you call a boomerang,” she says with a laugh. “I left Fresno for five years and never ever, ever thought I would be back, and I’ve been back since 2012. … The momentum behind what is going on in Fresno right now is really exciting. It’s been great to be a part of it.”
How to support and participate in Next Generation Philanthropy