Six Riverside-Brookfield High School students will have a chance this spring to help decide how to spend $30,000 from a charitable foundation.

Juniors Paulina Carmonia, Paige Fudacz, Sophia Gutierrez, Amanda Kogut, Dante Moscosa and Samuel Royer were selected to participate in the Young Community Changemakers program, known as YC2, of the Community Memorial Foundation, a Hinsdale-based nonprofit founded in 1995 when LaGrange Memorial Hospital was bought by Columbia Hospital Corp., a private for-profit hospital corporation.

The Community Memorial Foundation serves 27 communities in the western suburbs of Cook County and southeastern DuPage County, ranging from Riverside to Downers Grove, basically matching the areas that were served by LaGrange Memorial Hospital. 

The foundation was funded by the sale of LaGrange Memorial Hospital in what is known as a private health conversion foundation under a rule that requires that the proceeds of a sale of a nonprofit hospital to a for-profit company go to help the area served by the hospital.

Since its founding, the Community Memorial Foundation has given away more than $80 million. 

The six RBHS students will join 18 students each from Lyons Township High School, Nazareth Academy and Hinsdale Central High School for the next four months in learning about philanthropy and deciding which organizations to give money to. 

The students will be split into two groups, and each group will decide how to distribute $15,000.  

“The intent of the program is really to continue to build a culture of philanthropy throughout our region in the western suburbs,” said Beth Murin, the programs and communications officer for the Community Memorial Foundation. “Studies have really shown that when young people have the opportunities to be involved in philanthropic activities these individuals will continue to give, or serve, the non-profit sector throughout adulthood in a wide variety of ways.”

RBHS was added to the program this year because of relationships the foundation has with the school and the communities it serves.

The YC2 program originally partnered with just Nazareth and LTHS. Hinsdale Central and RBHS were added last year. Only seven RBHS students applied to be part of the program this year, which is why there are fewer of the school’s students in the program compared to the others. 

Anastasia McCarthy who was one of 11 students, all juniors and seniors, from RBHS participating in YC2 last year said enjoyed being in the program last year even though everything was virtual due to the pandemic.

“I learned a lot, actually,” McCarthy said. “It was very nice to be treated like an adult.”

Before participating in the YC2 program, McCarthy said she didn’t know much about philanthropy and foundations. Now she is looking into careers in the foundation and nonprofit world.

“I didn’t really know anything about this world,” McCarthy said. “It did open up that door for me.”

During the program, the students meet twice a month for about three hours on Sunday afternoons from January through April. This year the plan is for students to meet in person and have sessions at the Holiday Inn in Countryside.

Murin will guide one group of 30 students and senior program officer Tom Fuechtmann will guide the other group, also numbering 30 students. Two lecturers and facilitators are also brought in to teach the students about foundations and grant making.

Fuechtmann is a resident of Riverside and has worked for the Community Memorial Foundation for 20 years. His daughter, Grace, told McCarthy about the program last year.

“We need to create a culture of philanthropy in the western suburbs,” Fuechtmann said.

The Community Memorial Foundation focuses on health care.

“We award funds to nonprofits that improve health,” Fuechtmann said.

After the students learn about the foundation and community needs, they review grant proposals, read audit reports, do site visits and ultimately decide by a vote how to use the $15,000 each group is allocated to distribute. 

“Each group can award a maximum of $15,000 to up to three organizations,” Murin said.

McCarthy’s group last year decided to focus on teen mental health and awarded grants to Pillars Community Health and Metro Family Services.

The other group awarded grants to Alivio Medical Center and the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society.