Common Cents Executive Director Teddy Gross announced today that help is on the way for thousands of the city’s neediest citizens, and that help will come from thousands of the city’s tiniest citizens.
Nearly a half million New York City children raised an estimated $650,826.70 in this fall’s 15th Annual Common Cents Penny Harvest, the most triumphant regular harvest ever. Pupils from 767 of the city’s 1,110 primary and middle schools participated, and they will now spend the winter deciding how to distribute their funds.
In December, trucks carted the 195.25 tons of pennies to The Brink’s Company for counting. The official, to-the-penny count will be revealed in April. (The difference between the estimation and the final count is usually just a couple of thousand dollars.)
This month students from all five boroughs will form roundtables in 608 schools to study community needs. Common Cents will train the teachers to oversee the roundtables for this one-of-a-kind service-learning program and to integrate the Penny Harvest into the regular academic curriculum. The youngsters, ages four to 14, will research and visit non-profit organizations and interview community leaders before announcing their grant decisions this spring; many will also choose to fund and to participate in community service projects.
Last spring New York’s young people made 1,378 grants to non-profits, such as women’s shelters, animal rights organizations, community gardens, and senior centers, and carried out 366 community service projects, including block clean-ups and literacy programs. The average grant was $399, and the children most often voted (21 percent of the time) to support organization’s that support children. Grant recipients included national organizations like Make-A-Wish Foundation, Smile Train, and Habitat for Humanity as well as local groups like Tuesday’s Children, Bobbi and The Strays, and God’s Love We Deliver.
Additionally, the Student Community Action Fund (SCAF), the high school leadership component of Common Cents, annually selects one issue of global concern for study and philanthropy. This year the issue is the needs of youth in the Gulf Coast hurricane region. As mentors, the SCAF leaders will educate Penny Harvest students about the hurricane crisis and ask them to consider a donation to the Common Cents Global Relief Fund. Last year NYC adolescents contributed $62,583 for humanitarian aid in Darfur, Sudan.
Mr. Gross said, “We at Common Cents regard America’s billion dollar resource of idle pennies – found in startling quantities in the homes of both the rich and poor - as the philanthropic property of young people.” For this reason, every penny the children collect is theirs to give away in an egalitarian group process. As children help others in their communities, they express and develop their generosity and moral character, and they learn through practice the skills and responsibilities of democratic participation. These young people demonstrate to themselves and others their value as contributors to the community.
The Common Cents Penny Harvest (commoncents.org) grew from one child’s desire to feed the homeless, and for the last 15 years, children from virtually every school and neighborhood in the city have been going door to door with bags and sacks, collecting pennies in classrooms, pooling them in schools, working with local banks to turn them into dollars, and then allocating those dollars in grants to community groups selected by these same children, who would usually be considered much too young for such grown-up decisions.
With major gifts from The New York City Department of Education, the City Council of New York City, The Ford Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and numerous other foundations, Common Cents helps students break down some of the separation that too often characterizes schools and their neighborhoods.