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Perspective | Enloe Charity Ball demonstrates the hidden strengths of student-led organizations

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My name is Alex Gilliland and I am a junior at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh. This is my third year working with Enloe Charity Ball, a student-led effort to raise awareness of and funding for Raleigh nonprofits. That effort culminates in our annual winter dance, which most recently occurred on December 16, 2023. This year we raised $180,000 for Neighbor To Neighbor, a mentoring organization that seeks to reverse the negative effects of poverty. Our goal was $165,000.

The strength of students

What makes our fundraising effort unique is not the amount of money raised, but the vital role that our student body plays. This is because much of our fundraising comes from school events that also provide opportunities for students to connect, such as competing in our annual kickball tournament or caroling together to raise money during the holidays. Students know that by hanging out with friends at these events, and through their purchase of a ticket to the Charity Ball dance, they are a part of something bigger. It also lets them contribute to a cause that is important to the student body and may very well impact the people at their own school.

But what has allowed Charity Ball to truly build its influence lies in transitions: the transition of leadership among a new class of seniors each year, the transition of the ever-changing needs of Raleigh, and the transition in our responses to them. 

The power of transitions

The leadership transition each year is especially notable because it also presents a challenge — no leadership team is able to continue their commitment through a second year before graduating. Though this limits the power of a student leadership team to build on previous years’ work, it opens up the opportunity for change by bringing in new leaders. People who have worked behind the scenes in past years can apply fresh perspectives, allowing for more effective experimentation. The changes that these leadership transitions encourage have contributed to Enloe Charity Ball’s continued growth, and have proven to be a hidden strength of the student-led nature of the organization.

Other transitions lie not within Charity Ball itself, but in the community that we serve. Because Charity Ball supports a new beneficiary each year, we are particularly well-equipped to adjust to the needs of Raleigh. This has been most evident in our transition out of COVID, as we shifted to support organizations that addressed issues like healthcare for working, uninsured adults and housing accessibility for teens. Our choice to support Neighbor To Neighbor was guided by the needs we saw in the community, but also by a desire to connect with students like ourselves. Transitioning to new beneficiaries has allowed students to address the issues they are most passionate about in a given year.

With each new beneficiary, we restructure the fundraising events to better support them. Since Neighbor To Neighbor is more directly focused on local kids than some past beneficiaries, we repurposed our annual “Mini Charity Ball” — which is typically thrown for a single elementary school — so that it was thrown for students in their mentorship program from all over Wake County. Over the past few years, Enloe Charity Ball has also made efforts to increase the volunteering that we do with the beneficiaries to more holistically support their missions.

The importance of these transitions has become increasingly obvious to me as my third year of involvement with Enloe Charity Ball comes to a close. I have no doubt that transitions will continue to play a vital role in my final year, proving that the success of Charity Ball is not despite its student leadership, but strengthened by it. 

Alex Gilliland

Alex Gilliland is a student at Enloe High School, where he has worked on the publicity subcommittee of Enloe Charity Ball for the past three years.