Young professionals band together to help kids affected by violence

Natalie Shepherd talks about two young professionals who started a non-profit to help New Orleans kids affected by violence.

NEW ORLEANS -- It can be hard to see yourself as a philanthropist if you don't have a lot of money, but one local non-profit is teaching young professionals how to get in on charitable giving.

Josh Cox and Chris LeBato are a part of that group. They're usually found in a board room on Poydras Street.

Both have promising professional careers. LeBato is a vice president at Iberia Bank and Cox is a commercial lawyer, specializing in insurance defense.

"It's so easy to find yourself in a corporate world that's totally separated from many other segments of New Orleans," Cox said, from his boardroom on the 23rd floor.

To reconnect, both serve as board members at the Youth Empowerment Project. Y.E.P. provides job training, skills and educational opportunities for New Orleans young people impacted by poverty and violence.

"Working every single day, you're kind of in the daily grind. You get in your car, you go to work, you come back," LeBato said. "This actually puts us out in the city, to see what's actually going on."
 
Both Cox and LeBato wanted to do more. Many non-profits struggle for funding. So they came up with a unique way to raise money, while also engaging young professionals like themselves and they called it "40 under 40."

The concept is simple: find 40 young professionals, all under the age of 40, willing to donate $40 a month for a year. But, once they had the idea, they had to find the would-be philanthropists.

"Within two weeks, our young board members had reached out to their friends, their coworkers, their colleagues," explained Melissa Sawyer, Y.E.P. cofounder and CEO.

The response was overwhelming.

"I was shocked at how receptive people were," Cox said. "I mean, you know, most of the calls were yeses."
 
Each young professional will donate a total of $480 this year. That means about $20,000 extra dollars for Y.E.P. this year.

"Every little bit helps, and we recognize that a lot of young people, even older people, don't have a lot of money," Sawyer said.

"40 under 40" helps the kids and the donors, both with money for programs and by giving young professionals a way to help.

"My job is great and I love it," Lebato said. "But this, you actually get to see a kid and might actually change a kid's life and direction."

The "40 Under 40" project is hosting five networking events for members this year. It gives the young professionals a chance to meet each other, meet the kids Y.E.P. is helping, and learn more about its programs. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday, May 25th at Katie's Restaurant at 5:30 p.m.

"I think we too often in New Orleans know what the problems we are facing are, but people don't know how to be a part of the solution," said Sawyer.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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