Growing up and giving back

By Luke Kotz 
Hempstead High School, Class of 2021 

Safe to say, Dubuque is the only city I’ve ever known. Whenever I travel to other cities, both bigger and smaller than the Key City, I constantly use Dubuque as a benchmark to compare other places. 

When I began school at Hempstead High, I made my entire freshman year about not missing an opportunity. So, when my English teachers Angie Noel and Janie Houselog told me about YAPPERS, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s youth philanthropy group, I applied the next day. 

When I joined YAPPERS, I felt motivated by a debt; I had a moral obligation to give back to the community that I have been so privileged to be a part of my entire life.

A shared experience

Four months later, 15-year-old me walked into the Roshek Building, not knowing a soul in that group of 30 teens. What I found was a group of like-minded individuals who also were passionate about giving back to the community. What this group taught me about myself was that I wasn’t donating my time and perspective just because I had a debt to my community. All of us were there because we had love for our community and the people who make it great. 

Through our generous sponsors and the patrons of our annual Feed the Need luncheon and silent auction, our group raised around $8,000 a year for organizations that serve local youth.  

After much deliberation and discussion, we decided how to allocate grant dollars, settling on the recipients and the size of each grant. Making such an important decision took research, and we did our homework. Each year, we welcomed guest speakers to our meetings, and they told us about how addressing issues like immigration reform, attitudes toward mental health, and food insecurity could make a positive difference for people in Dubuque. 

The meaning of generosity

In the three years I have been a part of YAPPERS, my prototype for what a philanthropist looks like has changed dramatically. I discovered that everyone has something to give to their community, and it doesn’t have to be money. Time, ideas, perspectives and words can make a lasting impact.  

At the Community Foundation, we always have our eye on the next generation. How do we instill the spirit of giving back in our youth? How do we prepare them to lead our community into the future? How do we address their needs? Through the YAPPERS initiative, we are giving young people in our community hands-on lessons in making an impact.

Want to involved or know someone who might want to join YAPPERS? Read more about the program or contact Cynthia Wehrenberg at or 563-588-2700.