Spreading “Change not Charity” to Youth

Spreading the message of Change, not charity™, to high school youth

What does that mean?

Supporting Change, not charity™, is what it is all about at Three Rivers Community Foundation of Pittsburgh (TRCF). In order to do this we must first reach out to the youth, and TRCF is doing that through a special program being held this summer for the first time called the Youth Ambassador Program.

TRCF is working to make this first year a sprouting seed in the Pittsburgh region with plans to have this program become a success in the following years to come for all of southwestern Pennsylvania. This program was adapted from the Safe Harbour curriculum out of British Columbia and renamed it as the Home Base curriculum for the Pittsburgh region.  This summer five high school students are being trained to promote change and become leaders in their community by teaching a fun interactive curriculum that they will help 9-12 year olds learn various skills. This program is created to bring a diverse group of students together and overall, empower students to take home the message of Change, not charity™.

TRCF’s Youth Empowerment interns, Kristie McVay, Liesl Meyers and Karestee Hoak work with the high school students to teach them leadership skills and ideas on how to build a workshop. The high school students have input on what games and activities they will lead during the workshops to teach the younger 9-12 year old students about the seven social change issues that TRCF focuses on. The workshops build awareness and respect about these issues, which helps the high school students inform the younger students about topics in social change and how they pertain to the community.

Social change is a broad topic that can take on different measures and ideas. These ideas include addressing issues of diversity, environmental concerns, racial justice, disability rights, women’s and children’s rights, peace and human rights, and more. The young students and the Youth Ambassadors learn about these different issues occurring in southwestern Pennsylvania and learn how they can create a Home Base, or a safe space to approach their concerns and address their feelings of being excluded.


Behind the Scenes:

To get a better picture of how the program was being run, I went over to observe what was really going on between the high school students and the Youth Empowerment interns. I observed the second day of the program on June 28, 2011 at their training site in the community space at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The whole session was really enriching from beginning to end.

In the beginning, the Youth Empowerment interns discussed what they accomplished last week and what they will be doing this week. This week’s goal was to learn how to interact more inclusively using the Home Base model. The students learned techniques to understand each other and accept various differences that they may have encountered, such as religion, sexual orientation, and social backgrounds. This is one of the important goals of the program because it is applicable to the younger students. The Youth Empowerment interns taught this value through an icebreaker called the Crystal Ball Game.

This activity allowed the Youth Ambassadors to express their concerns, values, issues, and anything else they wished to discuss. Some of the things they talked about included respecting different religions, having patience with younger students, and being interactive.



Every week throughout the program different community speakers come to speak about their work with a local non-profit organization that seeks to make changes in the community. This week speakers from Dreams of Hope, Royal Tribe Music, and Best Buddies came to talk about how they have created social change throughout the region of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Dreams of Hope is an organization that was created by Ms. Susan Haugh. It is an organization that talks about issues in the LGBTQ community (LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning). Ms. Haugh presentedthe issue by saying that you must use respectful language and appreciate each other’s differences. Who cares what sex you are or what type of person you love? It is just love.

Royal Tribe Music is an organization that wishes to spread the joy of music from different parts of the world to the regions of Pittsburgh.  This organization was created by Mr. Kent Bey and he wishes to bring opportunities for artists to spread their talent and music. To do so, Royal Tribe holds an event every summer where the artists can showcase their music to the crowd. They also try to hold educational events for the youth to learn leadership, responsibility, and individualism.

Best Buddies is a national organization, and its regional chapter is directed by Ms. Mahogany Thaxton, who has a passion for helping people with disabilities or personal struggles. Members of this program educate people about mental disorders and advocate about social inclusion. Ms. Thaxton presented us with the message saying it is about giving the first look and seeing everyone as an individual.

All three of these organizations helped portray the Youth Ambassadors some of the different issues being addressed in the regions of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the world. This helped them have an idea on how they can become role models and develop their own workshops for the younger grade school students.


How amazing?

          I had a very rewarding experience after that day! After observing the program for just one day, I can only imagine the feeling that the Youth Empowerment interns and the Youth Ambassadors will have by the end of the program.  The following week they went to the Garfield Community Farms to help in the neighborhood gardens for their day of service, and this upcoming week they will be going to their site locations at the YMCA summer camps to begin leading the three-session Home Base workshops.  TRCF hopes to continue to spread the most important message of Change, not charity™ to all of the participants who come into contact with this program.