“Excellence in Truth and Service”
The motto of Howard University. It’s also what Virgil Parker, a returning alumni of the Emerging Leaders Impact Fund (ELIF) told me when I asked him what philanthropy means to him.
“We all have a responsibility to create solutions to help people around you,” Virgil says. “We need to strive to be a man for others.”
His vision comes, in part, thanks to an act of individual philanthropy that changed the course of Virgil’s life.
Six and a half years ago, Virgil arrived in the DC area to study at Howard University. Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother near Rochester, New York, Virgil balanced two jobs while studying so he could continue his education – but it still wasn’t enough to meet mounting financial costs. After just two years, Virgil was forced to drop out.
Determined to work his way back into school, Virgil picked up a third job – but he quickly realized that even with the added income, it would take months – maybe even years – before he had enough money to restart his academic career.
Then one day, his boss (a fellow HU alum) learned of Virgil’s financial struggles. In an act of unsolicited generosity, she made a payment of nearly $5,000 to the University on his behalf, no strings attached – just enough money for him to register for classes.
“She did not have to do that,” Virgil said. “But I’m glad she did. Because of her gift, I made a commitment with God that I was going to do all that I could to give back and do my best.”
Virgil returned to Howard University and was quickly drawn to the social impact space. He applied to an internship with the Aspen Institute’s Program of Philanthropy and Social Innovation. There he was introduced not only to the full breadth and scale of philanthropy – but also to a brand-new opportunity for young professionals in Prince George’s County.
“The Emerging Leaders Impact Fund is about the future,” ELIF Chair Davion Percy shares. “Not only the future of our community – here in Prince George’s County -- but it’s also about the future leaders of that community.”
Launched in 2020, ELIF’s goal is to help young professionals realize the positive impact that they can have in Prince George’s County, through a medium that many of their age group may not be super familiar with -- philanthropy.
“A lot of young people don’t realize that philanthropy is one of the most sustainable ways to make a difference in your community,” Davion explains. “We can all do things like mentor or volunteer – but few things have as long-lasting an impact – or as much personal and professional fulfillment – as strategically investing through philanthropy.”
“ELIF is basically a behind-the-scenes course of philanthropy in action in Prince George’s County,” says Darcelle Wilson with the Greater Washington Community Foundation. “We take our members behind the scenes and guide them through every step of the philanthropic cycle.”
Over the course of the year, ELIF members learn about Prince George’s County and the challenges that community members face. Based on what they’ve learned, members collectively decide on a cause to invest in and get the unique opportunity to participate in each step of the grantmaking process – from requesting proposals to allocating funding.
“I’m excited to learn more about this world of philanthropy,” incoming ELIF member Kate Spanos shares.
Kate learned about ELIF through her Nonprofit Management & Leadership course at the University of Maryland in College Park. Like several of her classmates, Kate is eager to see how she can apply the principles she’s learning in the classroom to the work she does every day.
“My partner and I started EducArte (a nonprofit in Prince George’s County) at the outset of the pandemic,” Kate explains. “Being new to the nonprofit and philanthropy space, we’re still learning how things work. My hope is that through ELIF we can not only give back, but also better understand what the needs of the community are so we can align ourselves to meet them, as an organization.”
Last year, the inaugural ELIF cohort -- which totaled 40 young professionals including Virgil-- chose to focus on addressing chronic absenteeism in Prince George’s County schools. The group awarded $11,500 in micro-grants to five different Prince George’s County nonprofits supporting youth and children’s learning.
“The idea of philanthropy is that it doesn’t take a whole lot to do a lot of good,” Virgil adds. “Anyone can participate; anyone can make a difference in their community. All they need to do is find the right avenue to use their given assets to help advance somebody else. For me, ELIF is one of those avenues.”
The Emerging Leaders Impact Fund (ELIF) is now enrolling members for the 2022 cohort. If you would like to give back to your community by becoming an ELIF member, visit www.thecommunityfoundation.org/elif