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Katharine Jones (left) presents a check on behalf of the Trin- ity Youth Community Fund to Debra Moses and C. Anders Minter of Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, Denver. A 2012 grant recipient will be announced during worship in May at Trinity Lutheran Church, Boulder, Colo.


Giving money away


Colorado teenagers manage a grant program By Dena Williams


oung people from Trinity Lutheran Church, Boul- der, Colo., are covered with paint since they’ve just returned from a rousing session of paintball. But all they want to talk about is the Trinity Youth Community Fund because they know it’s a ministry that changes lives—and that the church exists for the sake of the world.


Y Mara Erhardt, 17, is quick to tell about a 2009 grant


recipient: “We gave funds to a program to train medical professionals to recognize signs of child sex trafficking. When we heard about the amount of sex trafficking in Denver, we were shocked. Our eyes were opened. We all chose this group to receive funds.” Katharine Jones, 16, added: “I love kids so much and this is such a serious issue. I’m glad we could approve their grant.” The Trinity Youth Community Fund (TYCF) started


Williams is an ELCA pastor and writer in Denver.


in 2002. The goal is to engage eighth- through 12th- graders in their community and help them put their faith into action outside the church walls. Through a grant process, young people provide funds for nonprofits that serve people in need. The Sylvia Gunning New Venture Fund, a legacy gift from a member to the congregation, originally funded TYCF. Now the annual $5,500 program is funded by the congregation and youth fundraisers. A significant portion of the youths’ contributions comes from parking cars for University of Colorado football games. They also host “Luther Day” each fall—fun and food for the entire congregation.


This month they’ll award grants that fall under this


year’s criteria: Denver metro area organizations that serve people who are homeless, disadvantaged youth (and youth in drug abuse rehab), and teen parents and their children.


Managing the money Through TYCF, teens learn how to manage a grant- writing operation and the business of running and funding nonprofit agencies. About seven to 10 young people are involved each year. The youth establish the criteria, put out the call for applications and decide which groups receive funds. To learn about the agencies, the teen board receives reports, videos and photos and makes site visits. Terms such as “501(c)(3)” are simply part of their vocabulary. Most challenging is deciding which agencies will


receive funds. Although they worry about the groups they turn down, they console themselves by saying “maybe next year.” They realize they can’t help every group. When considering 80 to 120 applications each year, they ask: “Who did we leave out who really needs help?”


Becca Sager, director of youth ministries, and Mela- nie Nehls Burow, a member, provide direction and support. But they are clear: the program is initiated and owned by teenagers.


“I’m always amazed at the thoughtful way the youth approach the ministry. Each year it proves to be tough for them to narrow down the organizations from all that applied to the few they will visit and award money,” Sager said. “The youth wrestle with saying no to many organizations because they believe each one is work- ing for a worthy cause. It’s evident that they care deeply about the process; they take it seriously. Ultimately, at the end of the year, I feel honored to be part of this pro- cess with such compassionate youth.” 


14 The Lutheran • www.thelutheran.org


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