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HB Magazine - Spring 2023

GROWing a Passion for Philanthropy

On a cold, snowy day in January, members of the Middle School GROW club filled the desks and lined the walls of a classroom, with snacks and iPads in hand, to make an important decision. Two charitable proposals were pending and the club needed to decide how valuable dollars would be used to create impact.

GROW — Girls Reaching Others Worldwide — is a Middle and Upper School student-led foundation that funds organizations in the Greater Cleveland area while inspiring HB students to develop an early interest in philanthropy. The girls fundraise, solicit, and review proposals, draft grant acceptances (and rejections), and then personally hand grant checks to nonprofit representatives.

“The students see the philanthropic process from start to finish,” says Middle School World Languages Department Chair and Spanish Teacher Lauren Van Wagenen Harlow ’04, who serves as a GROW advisor along with Math Department Chair and Teacher Jen Oakley. “Teaching adolescents the importance of philanthropy opens their eyes to important issues and gives them opportunities to create change, one ripple effect at a time.”

GROW students use a rubric to evaluate grant proposals.

GROW students use a rubric to evaluate grant proposals.


GROW students elect peers to lead fundraising activities and find creative ways to encourage donations from their classmates. In the Middle School club, they’ve raised funds by painting and selling pumpkins at Halloween, face painting during school events, and coordinating a costume sale. Another special tradition is for families and students to make a GROW donation in honor of their teachers during the holidays. Everyone in the HB community is invited to participate and 100 percent of profits are distributed to local nonprofits through GROW’s proposal process.

Funding decisions are made after a robust review process.

Funding decisions are made after a robust review process.

Soliciting and Reviewing Proposals

Annually, in the fall, GROW solicits proposals from local organizations and then the review process begins in earnest. Students meet approximately six times throughout the process to discuss and review grant proposals. Experienced, older students assist new members with understanding grading rubrics used to evaluate grants and they all ask thoughtful questions of each other:

• Does the program fit into the GROW mission?

• Does it address a specific, real, and measurable need?

• Would our funding make a difference and cause a ripple effect?

• Does the project have a clear budget?

“The rubric serves as the starting point for our robust proposal review process,” explains Lauren. “The students practice persuasion, advocacy, and respectful disagreement.”

During a review session, students had a lively debate about an organization’s request to support an adult education program. Initially they weren’t sure it fell within their mission which supports programs impacting adolescent girls. But as they discussed the grant request, they recognized the importance of breaking the cycle of illiteracy and how children depend on older adults for help with homework or to sign school forms. They decided it was an important program that needed their support.

“It was a fantastic discussion,” Jen shares. “We remind each other that all of the organizations are doing good work and that it’s OK to disagree with one another about a funding decision while also respecting each others’ opinions.”

GROW is a student-led foundation that inspires an early interest in philanthropy.

GROW is a student-led foundation that inspires an early interest in philanthropy.

Awarding Grants

After funding decisions are made, the seventh and eighth-grade leaders write each acceptance and rejection letter to the organizations that submitted proposals. This requires students to practice the art of letter writing, editing, and preparing documents for a professional setting.

GROW hosts grant recipients on campus in the spring; during a presentation, each organization is presented with a check. Each year, the Upper School and Middle School GROW clubs grant approximately $20,000 combined to advance nonprofit missions.

“Our students love engaging with the organizations face to face,” Jen shares. “Students present each check individually and explain why the proposal resonated with them.”

It’s common for other connections to occur with recipients beyond grant awards; some of them return as guest speakers or invite HB students to conduct site visits to see foundation dollars at work.

“It’s wonderful to see Middle School students feel empowered and for them to see firsthand how mighty their voices are, no matter their age,” says Lauren. “We hope they are inspired to be lifelong philanthropists as they learn the importance of giving back to their communities.”