Sean Caldwell ’18 knew he only had a little time (just 90 seconds) and a lot to do. He had honed his speech, narrowed it down to the five notecards in his pocket, and somehow managed to calm his nerves—despite being on stage in the Mosack Athletic Center—in front of a room packed with more than 500 people at the Parents’ Association 2017 Annual Auction. Caldwell was there with fellow student Reed Baker ’17 to talk about that year’s Fund a Need item.
He needed the room to hear his passion. To believe in his mission. He needed their money to help kickstart the idea of a Student Investment Board—with a twist.
“Sean got in front of all the parents and bigwigs and gave a pitch about why this club would be great for students and asked for money. He said if we could have some real money we could really do something,” remembers Danny Mehigan, Upper School Math teacher and a faculty advisor to the Student Investment Board.
Caldwell remembers watching the giant screen that was tracking total donations. “It shot up right away! Within three minutes we had $25,000. It was pretty amazing.” Bank of America had contributed $10,000, and several other large gifts were contributed by community members in the audience. As the tally approached the $50,000 mark, the emcee announced that an anonymous donor would match it.
It took less than 10 minutes to raise that $100,000 because everyone in the room loved the idea. The money would go to a unique concept currently in play at only a handful of schools across the country.
Gains for Good
Caldwell had been working with school administrators to support an existing student investment club. He explains, “My idea was to start a student investment fund so that students could manage real money and build experience, and then when I pitched it to administration they added a twist.”
The school proposed establishing a student-run Investment Board that would give a portion of the money they earned to a student-run Foundation Board, which would in turn distribute funds as a grant-making organization. It’s the creation of the foundation that school leaders believe make this a rare opportunity available nowhere else in the country.
Both Boards got underway last year and this year have started making real moves toward working with real money.
Michael Phipps ’00 is a the Managing Director at Red Ridge Investment Partners who is also serving as an advisor to the students.
“In part one reason why I wanted to make myself available is that I’m incredibly grateful to the parents in the PDS community for initially putting up the capital to get this going. I think it has the right supervision but also some bright minds who are getting a window into a career path that I think is unique at the high school level.”
Phipps meets with the students on a regular basis and says he has been struck by what they already know, and the questions they ask. “I’m quite impressed...they are many steps ahead of where I was at that age and they pick up concepts very quickly.”
Part of what he’s helping them manage is the level of risk they should take with the portfolio knowing that a percentage of the money they make will be given to the Student Foundation Board. The students on that board have also learned from industry leaders about charitable giving as they look to award the money to student-led philanthropic projects at PDS, in the Charlotte community, and beyond.
Giving for Good
Megan Dunbar ’19 serves on the nine-member Student Foundation Board and was excited to learn that she and the other students would decide where the money goes. “It’s a pretty cool feeling that I can actually do something. It’s been a real frustration—at such a young age I feel like I can’t make a difference—and Providence Day is now giving me the opportunity to be a part of this board. It really is amazing. Being given that responsibility at my age is awesome.”
She and the other Foundation board members visited with staffers at the Foundation For The Carolinas (FFTC). The Charlotte-based organization is the sixth-largest community foundation in the country with assets of $2.5 billion. Will Jones, program associate for community programs and civic leadership at the FFTC, talked with the students about the grant making process and the importance of long-term growth.
“I’m jealous of these students!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know anything about philanthropy until college. They’re a very impressive group. You could tell the questions they had really came from a passion to serve their community and make Charlotte and their school better.”
Upper School History and Social Studies teacher Dr. Jennifer Bratyanski is one of the PDS faculty advisors to the Student Foundation Board. She says the visit to the FFTC was all about helping the students understand how a foundation works.
“It was a real-life scenario of what they are going to be doing,” she explains. “These kids are often in a bubble here. When they saw how a foundation as large and respected as FFTC operates, it gave them a new perspective. Seeing the actual location and meeting with people who do this for a living really added a sense of credibility and legitimacy.”
In fact, Dunbar says the visit to the FFTC made her realize she wanted to study philanthropy in college and pursue it as a career path.
“It was such a cool meeting and they told us what they do and it helped me see it’s a real career plan and really rewarding. Before I thought I had to wait to give back until I made enough money. Now I realize there are other ways I can give back right away,” she explains.
Bratyanski isn’t surprised. “Young people understand fairness and inequality and they’re action-oriented. I think as we get older we become more reserved, more aware of the nuances and obstacles which may lead to apathy. But young people don’t have those obstacles. I think what’s great about the young people I get to work alongside is that they see the infinite possibility of change.”
Mehigan agrees. “It’s been eye opening to see how interested they are and how much they already know about investing strategies. They’re so busy and have so much going on at school...but they have this knowledge base and they’re using it for good.”
Caldwell says that’s the best part. He is now at UNC Chapel Hill and is committed to staying involved as much as he can. “Knowing that in 10, 20, 30 years that fund and the asset base will grow and the impact we’ll have will spread and grow exponentially as we distribute it to charities…that just feels amazing.”
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