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This Millennial is helping students grow skills in reading—and in life

Thanks to Fidelity Charitable donor Tiffany Yu, students who were falling behind are not only catching up, but getting ahead

Young boy reading

Tiffany Yu says she’s always been "a bit of a math nerd." That’s why the 27-year-old San Francisco resident volunteered to teach math and science to sophomores at a Bay Area college access program for high school students three years ago, hoping to share her enthusiasm with kids from underprivileged backgrounds. But she noticed something interesting in the process: Equations weren’t standing in the way of these students having a career in STEM; words were.

The students could perform computational tasks well, but they couldn’t solve the same equations, using the same numbers, in word problems—a significant portion of standardized test content for college.

Yu, a big-data analytics consultant and University of Pennsylvania Wharton School graduate, saw a problem she could help solve. She discovered a local organization called Super Stars Literacy (SSL) that appealed to both her inner math geek and her education-driven volunteerism. SSL not only used a unique curriculum to guide development in both reading and behavioral progress for low-income children, it also measured growth for each student along the way. Yu could see how successful the nonprofit was in the data they reported.

Creating time and a fund for giving

Yu became involved with the nonprofit’s board of directors in 2016, which prompted her to make another important decision: She established a donor-advised fund, called a Giving Account, with Fidelity Charitable, so she could better organize her giving—and track her own charitable data.

“When I joined the board at Super Stars, I was really interested in learning about ways to better manage my giving,” Yu said. “Usually, I would just wait to see what I got in the mail from nonprofits or for friends to ask me to give to a cause. But I wanted my giving to become more structured and to learn about best practices.”

Now that she has a vehicle to plan, track and potentially grow her giving through the investment of the charitable dollars, Yu says she intends to use her Giving Account to support SSL and other charities with which she volunteers, including Minds Matter, a college-access program for low-income, high-achieving students for which she leads sophomore instruction; and Playworks, a charity that creates structured, inclusive recess programs in schools. Though she funded her Giving Account with cash initially, Yu plans to take advantage of her donor-advised fund’s ability to accept appreciated stock, too.

The exciting thing is that the program actually helps to bring these kids back up to their reading grade level.

Delivering results, in numbers and stories

A $1,500 grant, which Yu had recommended Fidelity Charitable make to SSL in 2016, covered the costs of training two of the 28 AmeriCorps members who deliver the program in participating schools. In 2015, 1,034 students participated in SSL, receiving an average of 80 hours of in-school intervention aid and 430 hours of afterschool programming. The result: 92 percent of students improved their literacy skills—with 44 percent surpassing national growth standards—while 94 percent showed improvement in at least one area of social-emotional growth, including empathy, conflict negotiation, impulse control and engagement.

“All the kids who come into this program have been deemed by their teachers as falling behind,” Yu says. “The exciting thing is that the program actually helps to bring these kids back up to their reading grade level. I’ve seen this both in the stories of the students and the actual numbers. They are trying to make sure that donations do have maximum impact, and that they are actually affecting the kids’ lives, not just taking up three hours every day of their time.”

Making giving part of daily life

For Yu, having a dedicated fund for charitable giving is a logical next step in living a life that seamlessly combines personal and social interest. Growing up in New Zealand, she learned the value of giving back from her family and from her school, whose motto (“By Love, Serve”) and emphasis on volunteerism instilled a holistic view of the world. That spirit continued at Penn, where she was part of a residential community led by a childhood development professor who encouraged students to mentor kids in impoverished West Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Yu continues to expand her areas of charitable interest as she discovers more barriers to early childhood education. Soon, she’ll begin tackling the negative relationship between food insecurity and learning with her Giving Account and her time.

“Personally, I love learning,” Yu said, “I think it’s very exciting. I want to help solve the educational disparities that disadvantage less fortunate members of our society. That’s incredibly important to me and I hope that I can motivate many others to join me in this cause.”

Learn how Millennials give differently from other generations in Fidelity Charitable’s report “The Future of Philanthropy.”

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