Her teammates took on the name of Ohana, the Hawaiian term for family, meaning no one gets left behind.
For 18-year-old George Ranch High School Senior Abigail Brown, ensuring no one gets left behind is the crux of the Youth in Philanthropy program under the George Foundation.
Brown recently received a $1,500 scholarship for her work with the group. This is her second year to participate in YIP. Last year she earned a $2,500 scholarship. Brown was among 81 Fort Bend County students from 25 high schools to receive a total of $155,000 in scholarships from the foundation this year.
The money is raised through local foundations, corporations and community members at large. Scholarships range from $1,000-$5,000.
In addition, the students awarded $38,500 in grants to 28 nonprofits serving Fort Bend County. The nonprofit grants ranged from $1,000-$2,000.
“Fort Bend County is a very supportive community and strives to help all community members,” said Ammie Blahuta, director of special programs with the George Foundation.
The idea of the program is to encourage youth to think about others, learn leadership skills and to learn to work together in diverse groups.
“This was really challenging but rewarding in a couple of different ways,” said Brown, a Rosenberg teen. “In working on my communication skills, I realized people can’t read my mind. I have to say what I think. And number two was working on my listening skills. If you want to be heard, you have to listen.
“I was able to work on my kindness because I can’t afford to be selfish,” she added. “And we came together as a team. There were a lot of different religions, languages, skin colors and we recognize and celebrate that.”
Brown learned of the program through a high school counselor as she was looking to gain service hours.
In the process, she made a multitude of friends. There are 400 students who applied. Two hundred were accepted and 182 students completed the six-month program, Blahuta said.
For six months of the year, the 17-and 18-year-old students spend their Saturdays assisting one of the partner nonprofits, which applied and submitted what they needed the students to do for them.
Teams of 25 students helped with food banks, sorted products for distribution to clients and helped with beautification projects.
After working with the nonprofits, the students decide as a team how the grant money is allocated to the nonprofits.
Blahuta said the Youth in Philanthropy program is important to the George Foundation as a way to educate and support Fort Bend County youths.
“High school students do not always have opportunities to see other parts of the county that they are not from without these experiences provided for them,” Blahuta said. “YIP helps to provide the students with leadership opportunities and teaches them how to work with others who may not be ‘just like them.’ As these students prepare for college, YIP is providing them a place to learn to work with others and appreciate diversity. We are also teaching them that even though you might not have a lot, you have something you can give to others; time, talent or treasures.”
She said she has seen the students grow as individuals becoming more comfortable with different situations, life experiences and being with other people.
“YIP helps our students learn to lead in many different ways; by setting an example, coming up with a solution or learning to listen to others,” Blahuta said. “These students go on to continue serving others when they go to college and beyond. Typically we see our YIP students choosing to serve others over a more selfish opportunity in life.”
As a result of YIP, students enter social work, physical therapy or even become entrepreneurs of their own nonprofits, Blahuta said. This year a high school senior planned and executed a fun run to raise awareness and funds for rescue dogs.
“We are trying to provide the students with different opportunities from women’s shelters to special needs. We make sure they have a variety,” Blahuta said.
Brown’s team worked with Brookwood Community, the Fort Bend Rainbow Room, George Ranch Historical Park and the Richmond Boys & Girls Club.
Team Ohana organized a storage room at the Rainbow Room, cleaned out the barn so the children could use it at the George Ranch Historical Park and made pottery and blankets for women shelters at the Brookwood, a residential and entrepreneurial community for adults with disabilities.
“The most favorite was the Brookwood Community,” Brown said. “That is where my team bonded the most. We were really interactive, it was the only time we got to interact with people.
“There was a girl I worked with in 2017 and she was still there and remembered me. We were able to serve and help and recognize they’re not any different from us.”
The high school senior said she attends Cornerstone Community Bible Church, adding, “Service is important as a Christian.”
After graduation, she plans to attend Angelo State University in San Angelo while studying communications and Spanish.
“I’m really involved with the Hispanic community and I plan to go to college and start a non-profit helping immigrant families, be it getting a job or a path to citizenship or private school,” Brown said. “Just finding a way to find a home. That is something that is super on my heart.”