TSCS students Aja Wilson (left) and Makhalia Gray with their VING checks to give and VING backpacks.

Take the second syllable of the word “giving” and you have “VING,” the name of a Chicago-based nonprofit that gives young people the chance to give $1,000 to non-family members in need because of circumstances beyond their control.

Take 71 students from The Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, a program of the Soulsville Foundation, and you have a group of students who have donated $71,000 to those in need since being introduced to the philanthropic organization in 2015 through the school’s faculty.

Now, take the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has forced schools around the world to close, including The Soulsville Charter School, and the new reality of distance learning. Is that going to put the VING Project for students on hold for now? Hardly. In fact, taking on new VING efforts for the students to continue giving to those in need is the first assignment from economics teacher Austin Crowder in his new distance-learning curriculum.

This is what he sent to students on the first day of distance learning:

“Your primary assignment for week 1 of distance learning is filling out a VING application.

You are going to learn about economics by becoming involved in the economy in a unique way. Remember what a non-profit is? We will be taking part in one by applying to give $1000 away to someone of your choice who has a specific need in your community. There are a LOT of needs right now due to our economy officially being in “contraction” and likely heading towards “recession” (remember those keywords/ideas?). And, it really works. Over the past 4 years my students have given away about $65,000 total!

Step 1: Go through the VING Intro Presentation PowerPoint to learn the rules

Step 2: Watch ALL of the video links to get more clarity (they are short and fun)

Step 3: Click on and read the “Video Rubric” and “VING Rules” document to get yourself ready

Step 4: Complete your own copy of the VING Script and VING Writing Prompt so you can use it in your application (turn those in)

Step 5: Go to this website: https://vingproject.org/

Step 6: Click “Nominate Now” and use a phone or computer to complete the form

Step 7: Post a screenshot or picture of the confirmation screen you get once you’ve completed the form.

Last step: Wait to hear back about whether or not you received the $1,000 check to give away!

At the end of the first week of distance learning, 17 TSCS students completed and submitted VING proposals and six students were chosen and received $1,000 checks and new VING backpacks. Many of the students who applied requested the funds for friends affected by the COVID-19 crisis to help them pay rent, buy groceries, and to be able to rest at home if they were still working.

TSCS student Makhalia.Gray wrote in her application, “I VING because you never know when people are needing help and if you know they are in need why not help them if you’re given an opportunity to. That’s what I’m doing. My friend has helped me through a lot and if this all I can do to help him before I leave for the navy then I will try. I believe in giving people opportunities when their backs are against the wall. It’s better to give than receive. 

According to VING, its VING Project is a national movement sparking the next generation of givers. Backed by an anonymous family in Chicago that believes in the spirit of giving, teens have an opportunity to give an individual in need an encouraging boost by surprising them with $1,000.

The Soulsville Charter School’s Crowder, who has made it a part of his learning experience, says it’s not only good that the students’ family friends are receiving much needed funds, but it’s also beneficial for the students, many of whom live at or below the poverty line themselves.

“It is remarkably empowering for my students to be able to directly assist with some of the severe material needs in their immediate communities. Few youth are given such an opportunity to so dramatically provide a boost to someone in need. The ability to do so through VING has helped my students be actively solutions-oriented rather that passive observers of problems – and that is an empowering trajectory to be set on at a young age.”  

The VING Project’s spokesperson Alli Neff adds, “The VING project is excited to have The Soulsville Charter School students participating in our VING community of teen givers looking to make a positive change in the world around them. We are so thankful to Austin and the Soulsville community for continuing to introduce students to the VING project year after year, sparking a lifelong passion for giVING amongst our future generation.”

Any teen age 14 – 18 is welcome to nominate a U.S. resident 18 years or older who is in need of financial assistance and is outside their family. Teens, individual or in groups, must submit a video that is two minutes or shorter making their case to receive a $1,000 check. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, students were required to hand deliver checks to their nominees. Now, a teen may drive to the nominee’s home, place the check on their front porch, call them to come out and get it, and then step back a safe, social distance and watch as the recipient comes out to receive their check.

Neff says the VING Project has received video nominations and checks for friends in need from a few other teens in Memphis but that, “They were probably friends of The Soulsville Charter School students who told them about it.”

Crowder adds, “Now more than ever with all the frightening news about the coronavirus pandemic and all of the uncertainty the students are experiencing, it’s good to give them this outlet to keep giving back, which is often their first instinct when times are difficult. We look forward to seeing how they take advantage of this opportunity. We feel this is one positive way for them to harness their energy during times that might otherwise seem pretty bleak.”