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Young Philanthropists Provide Support for Classmates

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The recipients of this year’s Outstanding Young Philanthropist Award each drew inspiration from their pain to launch the initiatives that earned them the recognition Nov. 18 from the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They are Kate Jenkins, a student at Canfield High School, and Kindness Kampaign co-founder Sarah O’Malley.

Art as Therapy

Jenkins, recognized for her efforts to launch an art club at the high school, wanted a place where students could express themselves though art, which she says is therapeutic.

“I started drawing when I was in middle school, after I had gotten over a long illness. And art helped me get through it,” the Canfield junior says. “I know other kids have lots of personal issues and I know art helps.”

The Canfield school system had several requirements before it would approve the new club, among them $2,000 in seed money.

“I had to sell some of my art,” Jenkins says. She had some on cards that she sold to friends and family members. She and her supporters also secured donations from organizations such as the Junior League of Youngstown, Canfield Rotary and the Till Open golf outing.

Canfield art teacher Kate Antal says she had been trying to launch an art club at the school for years. “I was very excited to have somebody that wanted to put a lot of initiative into it,” she says.

The club was launched this academic year. So far it’s going well, Jenkins says. As it gears up, the club will have monthly speakers and projects, Antal says.

“At our first meeting, we had so many people, and people are really super-interested,” Jenkins says. “It was surprising to see how ready and excited people were for the art club.”

Antal was also surprised that so many students got involved, and she anticipates more will join. Already, students have approached her to ask whether they can join after winter sports are over, she reports.

“It was surprising to see how many people in sports also like art,” Jenkins remarks. “It’s great.”

Tragic Origins

Sarah O’Malley, who with her sister is one of the founders of the Kindness Kampaign, recalls how the initiative was born. It arose in the aftermath of a fellow student at Greenville High School committing suicide in 2008.

“That started a movement,” O’Malley, then a sophomore, recalls.

Her family lived on the same street as the victim and some 50 teens gathered in front of her house “just because nobody really knew what to do with themselves,” she says.

Her father issued a challenge to the assembled youths.

“Not that we could have stopped what happened, but what would happen if everybody was just a little bit kinder to each other?” she asks.

The group undertook the mission to spread kindness, starting with various service projects around the community, then by raising funds for organizations such as the Greenville Symphony, Salvation Army and Good Shepherd Center.

“As a small community in Greenville, we are all supportive of one another,” says Landis Erwin, a fund development specialist with the Diocese of Youngstown who graduated from Greenville in 2008 and nominated O’Malley for the award. Erwin’s brother was part of the group when he was in high school and she supports the program as well.

“It’s not something that’s ever been a club,” says O’Malley, who graduated in 2011 and is a freelance graphic designer. “There’s never been any applications. There’s never been any positions. It’s just whoever wants to join whatever project we’re doing. Whoever wants to help out is always welcome.”

The Pay It Forward program is one “I’ve always been a big advocate for,” Erwin adds.

“It’s an essay contest for high school students,” O’Malley says. “They write a short essay on what they would do if they had $500 to give away.”

Proposals have ranged from benefiting charities, animal shelters and other nonprofits to buying Christmas presents for the needy. She could not say how much money has been raised. “It’s not something we really kept track of or tallied,” she explains.

“The money is important but it’s more about spreading kindness and trying to pass that message along.”

Her drive to help others was instilled early, she says.

“Something my family taught me from a young age is treat others how you’d want to be treated. We had the opportunity to actually do something about that in high school,” O’Malley says. “Several of my friends were behind it and it was neat to see the community behind us as well. It’s just such a simple idea that really has had a lot of support.”

Pictured: Sarah O’Malley, right, co-founded the Kindness Kampaign with her sister in 2008 after a classmate committed suicide. Landis Erwin, left, nominated O’Malley for the award.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.