Guest writers: Gracie Grady, Chair, and Jibraan Rahman, Vice Chair, of the Community Foundation‘s Youth Advisory Committee
The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Clearly, he hadn’t met anyone on the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
These young people, famously known as the “YAC-ers” (pronounced “yack-ers”), have recommended nearly 200 Community Foundation grants that serve youth in the Michigan community since the initiative’s launch in 1991. The YAC brings together youth from across the region to make permanent positive change on causes that are close to themselves and their peers. The Community Foundation has boldly and creatively opened doors to young people to add youth voices and perspectives to philanthropy. The passion and dedication of this generation of youth may be more important now than ever.
Today’s teens are increasingly struggling with mental health issues compounded by the effects of the pandemic. Over the past 18 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have declared an emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
Gun violence, pandemic-related isolation, social media pressure, and cyberbullying, among other stressors, are having lasting impact on the lives of youth. In recent years, teens have become more disengaged and adolescent suicide rates have soared. In this environment, the role of the YAC members has become crucial.
There are two main ways the YAC contributes to the community. First, the YAC offers a direct benefit through grantmaking to support programs that benefit the youth in southeast Michigan. But beyond the grantmaking, the initiative helps develop leadership skills among members while sharpening their understanding of the workings and impact of philanthropy.
The YAC does incredibly valuable work as we review and approve grant proposals focused on improving the lives of youth. Some grants are for programs while others are for youth leadership roles within nonprofit organizations. An example is Detroit Horsepower.
This organization leads an equine-assisted learning program informed by their youth council that meets the social-emotional needs of Detroit youth affected by COVID-19. This is an experience that some children may not have had if not for the YAC’s grant recommendation.
After the horrific Oxford shooting in November 2021, the YAC worked with the Community Foundation to secure $100,000 to help schools promote safety and prevent future gun violence. This unique grant opportunity will invite school districts to apply for funding for issues including mental health, gun violence, and school safety.
With such grant opportunities as for school safety and anti-gun violence, the YAC can advocate for peers through planning, creating the application, setting the guidelines, and making recommendations to the Board of the Community Foundation. This is just another example of how YAC-ers are working within our communities to be the change we want to see.
We hope our voices amplify others and bring small slivers of hope and strength to children in our communities.
The Community Foundation’s work with YAC-ers and support of youth programs will continue in perpetuity because of endowed funds including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Youth Fund, Southeast Michigan Leadership Youth Fund, and the TI Group/Bundy Corporation Fund.