Philanthropic youth

Kids at Bethlehem Lutheran Church are getting a crash course in grantmaking

For a typical kid, the biggest financial decision they face is what to do with the allowance: new jeans or a video game?

At Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the Kingfield neighborhood, kids have much larger financial responsibilities. A new program called the Kids’ Choice Fund has youth at the church in charge of an endowment fund.

The Kids’ Choice Fund board — made up of seventh to 11th graders — is in charge of giving out grants to youth in the congregation who apply for funding. The board can tap up to $5,000 a year, the earnings on a $100,000 fund from the Bethlehem Foundation.

Jeff Mogush, one of the adult advisers for Kids’ Choice, said he hopes the work inspires other people to give to the endowment. “Our wildest dream is that the program gets replicated elsewhere,” he said.

Abby Pansch, a junior at Southwest High School, chairs the Kids’ Choice board. The Bethlehem Foundation has final review of the grant
awards this year.

Kids’ Choice just approved their first grant application for a youth service project that calls for making reusable bags for Joyce Uptown Food Shelf. A group from Bethlehem is also organizing a trip to India to visit a boarding school this summer and will likely get funding from Kids’ Choice.

Pansch said she’s still learning a lot about philanthropy and said the program has given her a chance to develop leadership skills.

“Being a part of Kids’ Choice Fund is such a great opportunity,” she said. “I believe that service and generosity is much needed in today’s society and the satisfaction of granting a child the opportunity to show what they can do to help is very rewarding.”

Ultimately, she’d like to see the program expand throughout the community, giving other youth first-hand experience with grant writing and philanthropy. “The more people we can get excited about this, the more possibilities we have to show compassion and reach out to those in need,” she added.

The church is working on other initiatives, too, to help members become more financially savvy.

Some of the youth have gone through Share Save Spend, a program developed by Nathan Dungan, a former financial services executive based in Minneapolis who now works as a speaker and consultant across the country to promote good money habits among families.

As part of the program, children are encouraged to limit their spending to one third of their allowance. Another third should be saved and the final amount should be set aside for charity.

Bethlehem is also hosting personal finance expert Chris Farrell for a special event on May 4 at 7 p.m.

Farrell is economics editor for American Public Media’s Marketplace Money and also writes for BusinessWeek and has a column in the Star Tribune.

He’s out with a new book, “The New Frugality,” which advises readers on ways to approach personal finances in a smart and sustainable way.

According to a description from American Public Radio, the book offers tips on renting or owning a home, saving money for college and avoiding foolish debts, among other things.

“The New Frugality is not just belt-tightening,” the statement reads. “It’s a new paradigm in which we’re learning how less really can be more. It adds up to a completely new way to spend and save — a lifestyle of less waste, lower environmental impact, greater piece of mind, and in the long run, deeper satisfaction.”