In celebration of Black Philanthropy Month, the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Black philanthropists making their impact across the Chicago region. This article is the first in our series—be sure to check back as we profile the impact of generosity in the Chicago regions Black community throughout the month of August.
From an early age, Danielle Fregia understood the importance and value of giving back to her community. Her philanthropic journey began with mentoring and tutoring Chicago Public School students and has evolved over the years. As a young professional, Danielle, co-chairs The Chicago Community Trust’s Young Leaders Fund, a diverse group who volunteer their time and resources as Chicago’s next generation of philanthropists. She is passionate about education and supporting grassroots organizations, especially those led by young leaders that are making a difference in their community.
Danielle recently sat down with Nina Alcacio, director of public relations at the Trust, to discuss what inspires her to give, how she leverages collective giving for greater impact, and why it is important for young professionals to find ways to support their communities. Some questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nina Alcacio: Tell me a little bit about your philanthropic journey.
Danielle Fregia: My philanthropic journey started during my freshman year at Amherst College. I took a history class of what community engagement has looked like in western Massachusetts—where Amherst is located. As part of that class, you were supposed to go out and engage with an organization. I chose to work with a small cooperative grocery store and built up their social media marketing. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that, and I just fell in love with the idea of giving my time and skills to make a difference for others. It was through that experience that my journey of wanting to be involved in philanthropy started. I love community and want to give back to my community.
NA: How has your own life experience inspired you to give back.
DF: During my senior year at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, I started tutoring elementary school students to help them get ready for high school and apply for selective enrollment schools. In doing so, I realized these kids didn’t have new textbooks. They didn’t have computers. They didn’t have all the same things that I really took for granted and that my Chicago Public School had. You heard about it in the news, but because I was never exposed to it, it’s a little hard to conceptualize what that looks like until you go into that environment and see it. When I came back to Chicago after graduating from college, I wanted to give back to Chicago Public Schools. Still, I knew they needed so much more help than my individual tutoring could provide, and I realized that I needed to aim higher and look at impact at scale.
NA: As a member of the Young Leaders Fund, could you share a little bit about how you leverage collective giving for greater impact.
DF: It has really been inspiring. The people that join YLF come from lots of different backgrounds and have very valuable skill sets that can be leveraged to give back. I believe that if you bring what you have to the table, everybody’s going to eat and feel blessed by what you were able to deliver. Through YLF, I have met Chicago’s young leaders that will, hopefully, be able to fix some of the problems that we’re talking about in 2020 because they want to give their time and their knowledge to make a difference.
NA: Has there been anyone in your life that has inspired you to want to give back?
DF: For me, it was my English teacher in my junior year at Walter Payton, Tiffany Batiste. She would always tell me, “you know better so do better.” She always graded my papers harder, and she always said you have so much more, you need to be doing more. That is always in the back of my head. Whenever I have the option of doing something for myself or giving back, I remind myself that if I have the capacity, then I need to give back because it’s only going to make my community better.
NA: How would you describe a philanthropist?
DF: It’s layered. I feel like when I first thought about philanthropists, I thought about these successful individuals, but success defined through capitalistic standards of someone wealthy and accomplished who gives a portion of their wealth away. I think that definition is still in the back of my mind. I don’t think it’s necessarily incorrect for how most people feel about philanthropists. But I am a philanthropist, and I’m only 25 years old, and I don’t have a ton of money, but I give back what I can. I feel like a philanthropist is anybody who has the need to give back to their community and does so consistently. If you’re always in the space of giving back to your community or working towards improving it and seeing the power of collective giving, then you are a philanthropist.
NA: Tell me about the spirit of philanthropy that you see among Chicago’s young leaders.
DF: I think the spirit of philanthropy among Chicago’s young leaders and especially within the Black community is so strong. Since COVID-19 disrupted our lives, a lot of my friends have taken to Instagram to find ways to show up and give back. Whether that be raising money on their birthdays to go to local causes or setting up a food drive to support families in need or organizing community cleanups. It has been this organic movement in this city where young people are just ready to mobilize. It has been happening all over the city, especially on the south and west sides and it’s been inspiring for me.
NA: What message would you share with someone who’s just beginning their journey and thinking about how they could give back?
DF: I would say that there’s a lot of ways to give back. If you feel like you don’t have a lot of money, that’s okay. If you have time, find ways to give that by volunteering. It can arguably be more valuable.