Youth Philanthropy: A Movement that is Developing Agents of Change

Youth Philanthropy: A Movement that is Developing Agents of Change

I was raised in the small town of Alma, Michigan and enjoyed the supportive environment and social fabric that results from living in such a community.  This lifestyle empowered me to recognize the importance of being involved in my community and promoted a genuine sense of responsibility to help others.  I am blessed to have two parents who served as strong role models and truly embody the value of service.

As a result, my youth philanthropy journey began at the age of 10, when I attended my first Youth Advisory Council (YAC) meeting.  I am one of four children, and growing up, my siblings and I often had to tag along with our parents to some of their commitments.  My mother, Ginna Holmes, has been the Advisor of the Gratiot County Community Foundation’s YAC for more than 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to begin understanding philanthropy at a young age. Every time I would go with my Mom to events and meetings, I would learn something different.  I learned what makes a good leader, how to implement ideas, and how to work with people.  I also learned that it was important to work hard and do my best.

In high school, I drew from those experiences and began to develop my own sense of service.  I was very excited when I was able to become an official YAC member with the Gratiot County Community Foundation YAC, serving as president during my senior year.  Being involved in YAC opened my eyes to the world of grantmaking and service, and helped me encourage other youth to volunteer within our community.  Through YAC I learned that I could touch lives in an essential way simply by giving of myself.

YACs are a way to show the community that youth want to serve and get involved.  Beyond this, the Gratiot County Community Foundation YAC awards mini-grants to local youth and children to create and implement their own service projects.  It is an important part of the work, as it introduces the concept of grantmaking and service to children at a very young age.  YAC has impacted communities and youth for many years.  For me, the idea of promoting grantmaking and service in youth is a very valuable idea.  The Gratiot County community and other communities are fortunate to have YACs, which give in a variety of ways through the service and leadership of local youth.

It has been eight years since I have been involved directly with the Gratiot County Community Foundation YAC.  However, I now have the incredible opportunity for my youth philanthropy journey to come full circle, as I am the Program Coordinator with the Learning Services Team, for the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF).  In this role, I am responsible for working with all the YAC groups across the state of Michigan to enhance their service and philanthropic engagement.  The fact that I am a YAC Alumni who now has a job that works directly with the youth program that shaped the person I am today is quite amazing for me.

Overview and History of the Youth Philanthropy Movement in Michigan

Youth philanthropy in Michigan has been impacting local communities for almost 25 years.  Here is a brief history and overview of how YACs first came to be.  The Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP) was created as a result of a challenge grant offered by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation through the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) to communities across Michigan with two goals.  The first goal was to ensure that every community in Michigan’s 83 counties had access to a community foundation.  The second goal was to create endowed youth funds overseen by high school age youth – a Youth Advisory Council (YAC) – in every community foundation.

The challenge grant provided for up to one million dollars for the youth fund if the community foundation raised up to two million dollars for other endowed funds.  When the challenge grant ended in 1997, both goals were achieved with 86 youth funds created.

The YACs are made up of high school age students who are committed to changing their community through philanthropy.  YACs primarily focus on three fundamental areas: Fund Development, Youth Empowerment, and Grantmaking.  They also organize and engage in various forms of community service within the areas they represent.

Since 1991, more than 15,000 high school youth have been engaged as YACers to award more than $30 million in grants for youth issues.  More than 1,800 high school youth serving on 86 community foundation YACs are annually granting more than $2 million for youth issues.  The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Youth Challenge has successfully launched a movement.

Impact and Reflections on what YAC has Meant to Youth in Michigan

The impact that YAC has had on youth in Michigan is very inspiring to see.  All 86 YAC groups provide youth with opportunities for ownership and professional development, youth empowerment, and peer learning for youth grantmaking, which has built a pipeline of leadership and talent throughout the state, country, and world for this sector, and is developing agents of change for our world.

One very important event that happens each year to allow YACs to collaborate and learn from one another is the Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference. This year we held our 24th Annual Conference on June 24-26 at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  More than 250 youth grantmakers and advisors came together from across Michigan, three other states, and the Beautiful Foundation in South Korea to learn more about youth philanthropy.  Evaluations confirm that participants left with a true understanding of this year’s theme, “Find Your Voice,” and a motivation to make a difference in their communities by starting with their voices.

This conference is an event that is planned completely by youth for youth.  The MCFYP Committee, made up of 12 youth YAC representatives, plans and facilitates the entire conference.  This peer learning and collaboration for youth grantmaking is incredibly important and empowering.  Throughout the two and a half days that youth are at the conference, they participate in team building activities, attend breakout sessions on a variety of topics related to YAC work, engage in open space conversations where the youth set the topics in real time, learn about the history of YAC, listen to inspirational speakers, collaborate with other YACers from all over Michigan, and share their stories on how they are making a difference in their communities.

This year we finished out the Conference by having all of our YACers featured as our “final speaker.”  Everyone participated in a “Share Your Stories” segment where participants volunteered to share their stories with the entire conference.  What resulted was one of the most powerful moments I have ever witnessed.  One of our MCFYP Committee members reflected on the experience:

“As a fourth-year conference attendee, never have I seen such a relatable and personalized performance as the one put on by the YACers during the speaking space they were allotted. In volunteering their stories and voices to motivate their peers, participants set aside their own inhibitions and insecurities to deliver the most heartfelt speeches I have ever witnessed. I can affirm that the passionate students at conference were right on par with those who are highly trained to emotionally move an audience.  What the audience collectively gained from witnessing such an occasion was the power of youth voice. This is testament that youth can provide meaningful input and inspiration, even in environments traditionally reserved for adults, when provided with a receptive and supportive audience.” – Claire Fleming, MCFYF Committee Member

It is difficult to fully capture and express what the YAC programs, supported by the Council of Michigan Foundations, have meant to thousands of youth from across Michigan.  Below are the reflections of four YAC and MCFYP Committee Members who shared what their youth philanthropy journeys have meant to them.  Their testimonials showcase the importance of giving youth the opportunity to be a part of their community and make change.  When youth are given this space to make an impact, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.

“This past summer, our theme for conference was Find Your Voice, and one of the most poignant lessons that I have learned as a member of this team is that when we find our voices, we must use them to better our communities for future generations.  I am so unbelievably thankful to have been a part of what youth philanthropy is doing in the world today.”  – Grace Maraugha, MCFYP Committee Member

“One of the most profound aspects of YAC and MCFYP is that it gives youth the power to make a significant effort toward remedying the issues facing their local areas. The unique dynamic and atmosphere provided by these groups fosters such a strong connection between youth and their communities. There is extreme value to giving young people an environment where they can collaborate and work together. YAC and the MCFYP Committee have prepared me for my future in philanthropy, taught me that no one should ever underestimate the power of youth voice, and inspired me to help pave the way to empower the next generation.”  – Cory Matkovich, MCFYP Committee Member

“In my time on the committee, I’ve really seen change. People go their entire lives without seeing concrete change through the work they do, yet I was blessed to see it every minute at the youth conference.  I see people come back every year with a renewed vigor for philanthropy, and I see individuals so passionate about their giving, they can’t help but tell everyone how they’ve helped their community. I see high schoolers develop a passion, a perspective, and a voice for philanthropy. And my, that’s incredible.”  – Jared Heddinger, MCFYP Committee Member

“The most important thing I have learned while on MCFYP is that philanthropy can bridge any gap that divides us.  People come from all types of families, cultures, and backgrounds, but when the common goal is driven by compassion and love, all division disappears and there is no limit to the good that can be done.  This is why MCFYP and youth grantmaking are important to me because it is driven by compassion, and the belief that we are the ones who are called to love others and make the difference, and in my mind, there are few greater causes.”  – Branden Bisher, MCFYP Committee Member

We are currently living in a world that is facing a variety of challenges and issues, and that at times feels overwhelming.  This world needs youth philanthropy.  Youth philanthropy has the ability to bring youth together to collectively make an impact for people and communities.  The voice of our youth matter, and they are choosing to make a difference.  Our youth are agents of change, and have the ability, motivation, and desire to make this world a better place for everyone.  The future of our world is in great hands.

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