Youth leaders are reshaping the way we think about philanthropy and grant programs.
Involving youth in philanthropy is a wonderful way to educate socially-minded young people about charitable work. Adults are often at the center of philanthropic endeavors, as donors, those creating grant proposals, and as those reviewing and approving them. While there are practical reasons for this structure, young adults are often heavily affected by these philanthropic decisions, and without a place at the table, their point of view can be lost and the challenges they encounter can be overlooked.
In the 90s, the Community Foundation recognized the potential of involving young people early in philanthropic work and created the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to review and advise on grant applications made to our Youth Leadership Fund. This was possible at the time thanks to a matching grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
YAC members are a group of 13–21-year-olds who come together to learn about and participate in philanthropy. They review applications, hear about projects, assess grant proposals, and make recommendations to the Community Foundation board about which projects to accept. Throughout this process, they are guided on how to perform due diligence with regard to a proposal’s budget, technical capabilities, and sustainability. We keep our guidelines for these applications flexible, so that the YAC members can determine which priorities they want to focus on, whether it be mental health, job readiness, or literacy. By giving the YAC real responsibilities, a budget, and a platform, they are empowered to enact change in a way that centers their perspectives.
The years of the coronavirus pandemic have been undeniably hard for young people, many of whom have had important formative years of their lives eclipsed by quarantines, school closures, and cancelled traditions. The YAC has chosen to respond to these hardships by focusing their attention on places where they can make positive change. They’ve recognized that at a time when their own autonomy has been limited, reviewing and recommending grants has been a way for them to make an impact.
Here are three main ways the Youth Advisory Committee has made a difference in philanthropy in just the past few years.
Racial Justice Grants
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests which followed, the YAC members convened an emergency meeting to discuss ways they could be more responsive to the racial turmoil taking place across the country. The YAC decided to create a special request for proposals (RFP) and organized a special grant-making opportunity centered around youth-related proposals which focused on promoting racial justice and racial equity.
The YAC took their responsibility as grant advisors seriously, approaching their work thoughtfully and with a commitment to promoting change in ways that showed deep commitment. In total, they awarded $125,000 in support racial justice programs. Projects they chose to fund included a youth-led dialog program about racism, considering ways to create an online bill of rights, programs to help schools to collectively think about education and racial justice, and ways for students to create platforms to mobilize around promoting racial equity and social justice. They also looked specifically at systemic disparities, particularly with those facing mental health issues.
The subjects of these grants, whether the influence of African food or creating inclusive and culturally competent training that empowers Black and African American youth on the Autism spectrum, have been diverse. But so, too, have been the lasting damage of racism in our society, and the restorative impact of Black culture overall. We’re excited to see the long-term impact of the programming in the years to come.
A few years ago, the Community Foundation took on more projects related to youth journalism. This prompted a close conversation with the YAC members about journalism and communication and its importance in their lives. A key conclusion from these discussions was the importance of developing the YAC members themselves as storytellers and journalists, both to aid in their own work with the Community Foundation, and to sharpen their skills as reporters and advocates.
As a result, the Community Foundation created a partnership with Michigan State University that includes two major components. Working with Joy Visconti, a professor of journalism at MSU, the YAC members developed their fundamental journalism skills as they checked in on racial justice grants and other issues that were important to them. The workshops included training in how to write in both a formal and informal style, online learning modules, and a panel on how journalists are able to show up in the social justice movement. The YAC members completed their program with a certificate from MSU, and put their skills to work by publishing articles on the Community Foundation website.
The YAC members also recommended grant funds for Professor Visconti’s work with the Detroit High School Journalism Program. This initiative will work with journalism classes or clubs and schools throughout southeast Michigan to professionally mentor high school journalists. The program is designed to help high schoolers develop their skills as beat reporters around Detroit, and will provide an opportunity to share their articles in the citywide newspaper, Detroit Dialog.
These youth journalism initiatives both with the YAC members and high school journalism programs in the area has created new ways for the Community Foundation to reach and empower youth voices. At a time when young people are connecting and creating online communities in new ways, preparing young voices through journalism is a crucial way to make sure their perspectives are heard.
Responding to the Oxford Tragedy
For many young people in southeast Michigan, violence is a looming threat in their everyday lives. This reality was brought home to them in late November of 2021 through the tragic shooting at Oxford High School.
In response, the Community Foundation put $100,000 toward lifting up the voices of youth in our region as we search together for ways to address gun violence, education, school safety, mental health, and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19. The YAC has taken leadership of this project, through which they hope to change how youth leaders are able to make a difference in their community.
The YAC is also overseeing a grant program in the spring of 2022. Youth are invited to apply to this program, which is intended to grant funds for projects that center their perspective as they seek solutions that will bring about systemic change.
As the voice of the future, youth need to be involved in philanthropy today.
The members of the YAC have inspired the region with their passion and dedication to justice and equity. We’ve seen first-hand the way our YAC members have thrived through their work with the Community Foundation. Their time on the Youth Advisory Committee offers real-world training, develops them as change-makers, orients them toward teamwork, and builds their confidence and self-awareness.
The YAC members have also demonstrated how the response to trauma can be transformative, and a positive force for social change. It is no cliché to say that their work on the committee educates us as well, by alerting us to their lived experience, challenging parameters we have come to accept as a necessary part of adult life, and showing us that sometimes the best approach to complex issues is the direct one.
At a time when many decisions are being made that will have long-term consequences for their future, those who will spend their lives living in that future deserve a place at the table more than ever.
If you are a youth or know a youth in southeast Michigan who is interested in an opportunity to be involved in our area’s philanthropy, opportunities to apply for a position on the Youth Advisory Committee can be found here.
If you are interested in making a donation to the Community Foundation to support the Youth Advisory Committee and its fund, you may do so by using the form below or connecting with our Philanthropic Services team.