Hot House highlights grass roots efforts

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For the seventh year, the Sprout Fund hosted its annual showcase of supported programs and projects. Among the programs highlighted at this year’s Hot House on Aug. 29 were the Legacy Arts Project and SponsorChange.

SponsorChange is an online community where graduates receive direct student loan payments for volunteering. The site also serves as a social networking medium, where participants can share their experiences while promoting an overall dedication to volunteerism.

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HOT HOUSE—News anchor Brenda Waters, second from left, and Emmai Alaquiva from WAMO, center, with other guests at the Sprout Fund event.

“Graduates of four-year universities rack up an average of $20,000 in student loan debt. As a result, individuals in their 20s are the least likely to volunteer,” said SponsorChange CEO Raymar Hampshire. “We also find African-Americans to have higher averages of student loan debt and lower rates of volunteerism,”

The organization also leads a fellowship program to better equip young professionals with leadership skills. They are currently in their second cycle, at the end of which participants will receive a stipend towards their student loans.

“Civic engagement is important on so many levels for everyone, given the data it’s particularly important that young African-Americans continue to make service in their community a priority,” Hampshire said. “And if they do that a program like SponsorChange can be beneficial in leadership development, increased community relationships, increased civic education and student loan stipends.”

Their display at Hot House featured firsthand information on the program from the participants. The exhibit also focused on youths, the environment and senior care as a method of showing the importance of volunteerism.

“Sprout Fund has provided us with the added confidence that comes when someone takes an interest in your project and decides to invest in it,” Hampshire said. “By investing in our project, not only did it help fuel our program, but it provided our program with the necessary awareness and relationships that are so critical for new ventures.”

The Legacy Arts project showcased four of its dancers in a performance at Hot House. The organization focuses on uplifting the arts in the Pittsburgh community through a variety of events and performances.

The Legacy Art Project’s Junkanoo festival, supported in part by the Sprout Fund, has been an innovator in “greening” urban communities. The first Jonkanoo event held in December 2008 featured workshops and vendors dedicated to global warming and other environmental issues.

“Jonkanoo originated in the Caribbean. It is a celebration of life that springs from a people enslaved in body, but not in mind or spirit,” said Alice Pittrell, Legacy Art’s media informant. “Celebrating life involves caring for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and the environment in which we live.”

The Sprout Fund is a non-profit organization that funds grass roots community organizations through their annual Seed Awards, which have supported over 200 projects.

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