The following blog post is submitted by Emma Galvin, who served as a Youth Intern at the Tarrant Foundation from 2011 – 2013.
Earlier this year, Lauren and I grabbed an informal lunch with a group of nonprofit development directors. It was an opportunity for nonprofits to speak directly with funders and learn a bit about different foundations’ approaches. As we sat around the table, eating bagels and doing introductions, I gave my usual explanation: I’m Emma Galvin, a Youth Intern, balancing my time at the Tarrant Foundation with a traditional load of high school classes. And I got the usual response: “Wow, what an amazing opportunity for a high school student!”
As a young person in the world of philanthropy, people are quick to appreciate the benefits I’m reaping. With philanthropy as a lens, I’ve gained perspective on my community, state and self. I’ve been a part of an organization that invests millions of dollars in causes I care about, in a state that I love. It’s been an incredible experience for me.
But the value of the experience hasn’t been one-sided. This internship is not about youth engagement for the benefit of youth, this is about youth engagement for the benefit of everyone in the room. When we’re having difficult conversations at the Foundation about innovation, education and the future of our communities, what I bring to the table matters.
My favorite part of every site visit is watching an organization attempt to explain the core of its work to a 17-year-old. Some can do it exceptionally well and some struggle – losing clear explanations of need and impact amidst complicated systems, acronyms and bureaucracy. When I am making funding recommendations, I can’t argue on behalf of organizations. I have to argue on behalf of what they do.
Does any of this mean that bringing youth on as collaborators in traditionally adult settings is easy? Of course not. Students need careful and deliberate supports as they move into a new world of thinking. But that might not be as difficult as it seems. Youth are often capable of much, much more than is asked of them.
Departing from the norm may in fact be harder for the adults in an organization than for youth. When you’re headed full force in one direction, it can be daunting to stop and redirect. But if there is one thing I’ve learned during my time at the Tarrant Foundation, it’s that momentum isn’t an excuse. If our work feels 100% comfortable, we’re doing it wrong. Imagine if the next generation were able to both understand and hold us accountable to our mission statements.
So my introductions require a bit of extra explanation, but I am so much richer for the understanding, relationships, and experience I have gained here. And as I look forward to the next chapter, I hope the Tarrant Foundation is too.
Emma Galvin graduated with honors from Burlington High School in June. She is taking a “gap year” to pursue Vermont-based and international service projects before heading to college next year. The Tarrant Foundation welcomes its newest high school intern this week.