Philanthropy runs in the family

Kelly YoungerCharitable giving is a family tradition for Kelly Younger, a 34-year-old social worker and philanthropist who grew up in Menlo Park.

When she was growing up, her grandfather would give his grandchildren $40 every Thanksgiving with instructions to give it away. “By New Year’s, we had to report back to him where we had given it,” Younger said.

Her parents were also “radically generous,” she said. They donated money to a ministry for disabled people and paid for college for people they knew who couldn’t afford it. Her father also donated his time to the foundations that supported local schools. When she was older, Younger helped her father evaluate potential grantees for a donor-advised fund he had established.

“This helped me see that having money isn’t for the purpose of acquiring fancy cars or a certain lifestyle – the purpose wasn’t to get things, the purpose was to help people with it,” Younger said.

As Younger continued her education and began her career, she became interested in the challenges facing immigrants.

“I was raised by a Bolivian immigrant because my mom has disabilities, and she poured her heart and soul into us. Through her, I experienced pure love across cultures, boundaries and language,” she said. “Also, going to a large public high school, my friend group ended up being very diverse, almost all from immigrant families.”

She focused on Latin American Studies and Chicano/a Studies in college, graduating from UCLA with a new appreciation of the issues affecting immigrants. After college, she worked as a Spanish and Portuguese medical interpreter in hospitals. She found herself wanting to do more to help, so she became a social worker.

More recently, she volunteered at the largest family detention center in the U.S., near the border in Texas.

“The people in the center were refugees fleeing Central American gang violence,” she said. “Out of 400 people we served that week, all but two were fleeing persecution.”

This interest in immigration and social justice “has guided my charitable giving, my lifestyle, and my choices of how to use the money I have access to,” she said. For example, today she offers a second unit in her house as low-income housing. She also hopes to host some of the refugees she met through her volunteer work.

Younger also funds a scholarship at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. She established it at Menlo-Atherton High School in 2010 and expanded its reach by moving it to SVCF several years ago.

“I put a priority on those who were immigrants or the children of immigrants, or those seeking social justice,” she said. “My scholarship is intended to be easily accessible. I have tailored it to be easy to apply for. It’s available to undocumented students and is based off passion rather than academic performance, so those whose grades or opportunities were impacted by family circumstances still have access.”

The scholarship funds up to 12 students per year, giving them up to $2,000 each for any type of higher education. Students can renew the scholarship for up to six years.

"I want to explore queerness, gender and race in America in an academic setting. These topics are areas of interest that have either personally impacted my life, impact the foundation of this county, or have sparked my curiosity to learn about others," says Andres Perez Correa, who received the scholarship in 2018 and attends Swarthmore College. "With my undergraduate education no matter what major I decide to pursue, I want to use the social justice foundation of my education to explore the pluralism that is embodied in the United States."

Younger has chosen to be closely involved in administering her scholarship, relying less on SVCF staff, though higher levels of support are available. SVCF helps publicize the scholarship and assists with reviewing and sorting applications, but Younger does a lot of the work herself: screening applications, sending them to the committee she has assembled to help her choose recipients, verifying their enrollment in school, and letting SVCF know her recommended recipients.

Younger says she has been “taking the generosity and giving that I learned as a family legacy and making it part of my own identity, so I can be proud to claim my own philanthropy.” As part of this, she is looking at avenues for expanding her giving. She is interested in setting up a donor advised fund at SVCF, after her volunteer experience at the border.

“I want to be really intentional about giving money right now. I'm at a point where I know my interests and I know what I want to give to,” she said. “Philanthropy is a lot of work. SVCF offers options to take the ‘work’ out of it so you can give easily and focus on your interests, not the labor.”

Younger is also interested in learning more about a third way of giving at SVCF: the foundation’s strategic grantmaking work focused on immigration. “I would like that part of the foundation to be one of the places I give to, because I trust that they are doing thorough research to identify who does good work on immigration,” she said.

Younger also wants her daughter to grow up with the same charitable instinct that her parents instilled in her: “My daughter is 10, and I’m thinking of starting to introduce the idea of giving to her through the tradition of giving her money during the holidays for her to give away,” she said. “As my father says, if you have extra money, what are you going to do with it? It makes sense to give it away in your lifetime to a cause that you care about.”