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Youth Receive Grants to Create Change



Youth are leading many cultural, political, and structural changes at this time. From Greta Thunberg, 17- year-old, who is pushing conversation on global climate change, to Tiana Day, another 17-year-old San Franciscan old who organized a march across the Golden Gate bridge this summer. The youth are challenging old structures with loud voices and instigating change. The Y’s Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF) leverages this innovative energy. YEF empowers youth to incite the change they want within their communities. The program inspires trust, advocacy, and mini grants.

Yes, you heard that right. Youth can get grants for up to $10,000 to execute programs that affect their communities in the San Francisco and Bay areas. This is what YEF does. This program, out of Urban Services YMCA, has been around since 2010. Since then, it has awarded millions of dollars to energetic and innovative kids. But what’s even more amazing about this program than youth from middle school on up who get money to improve their communities, is that they receive these funds from a team of youth who work for the Y. This program is tailored to empower youth, for youth, and led by youth. Isn’t that something?!

You’re probably wondering how, so let’s dig in. YEF isn’t all youth, although the two adults who manage and supervise the program have inherent youthful energy. Patrick Miller, Teen Programs Director, and Jessica Kravin, Program Director, help facilitate and organize the youth projects and approvals. This is how it goes: YEF is awarded lump funding through DCYF then they put out a call for Community Funders. These Community Funders are young high school-aged students who apply to be Y staff on top of homework and school life. They work for two hours, two days a week in the program. Their goal is to recruit more youth to serve as Community Funders, but also search for grantees to submit projects to receive grant funding.

Once someone is accepted as a Community Funder, they engage friends online, through own networks to see what change their peers would like to see in their communities. Ideas that build momentum, improve the lives of many, and/or have a positive impact on youth in their community are presented by the grantees to these young Community Funders. Once their ideas are presented the Community Funders decide how to distribute the mini-grants. To earn funding, grantees are also required to work with another business, a company or non-profit, that will assist their project goals. And that’s YEF.

Community Funders are the essence of the YEF program. As youth-funders, they lead their peers and work together to track the grantees’ progress throughout the year. They also host events and trainings to engage participants. When you speak to Community Funders this is what you’ll hear:

“YEF helps you find yourself. From there you start branching out. I know Grace and I love when advocacy projects coming in with social justice. We all have something to fight for. We teach youth how to use their voice. -Erica

“One of the very first projects I funded was BEYOND SLAY. A female youth summit. Empowering women around healing from sexual assault. It opened my mind, that it’s not just with me but other people. It felt great to be a part of that. I feel moved and inspired to help out even more. It’s the reason I stayed at YEF for about 3 years.” -Juan (Congratulations to Juan who graduates this year and leaves YEF.)

“I liked the ask project (COVID masks). People who wouldn’t be able to afford any. Given the circumstances were provided with masks. Seeing how we actively help people under this pandemic was really inspiring.”-Maylene

The adults who oversee YEF agree that encouraging youth to lead is inspiring. “We keep the culture of YEF in a collaborative space, and we ensure a variety of perspectives. We want diversity on this team because we want to encourage the people who don’t usually have a seat at the table, or have a voice represented in the room. Representation matters.” Jess says. This is something the Community Funders have echoed as well.

YEF builds relevant skill sets for any of those involved. The grants have been awarded to a broad array of youth to fund a wide range of projects. One group of middle schoolers were able to get a grant to repaint their school. Another project, Provide Advocacy and Care for All (PACA), is a youth led civic engagement advocacy group that plans to harness the creativity and skills of politically involved youth and channel it into civic action. Grace, the PACA founder says, “We know they have ideas and can collaborate. We want to use that while some of us shelter-in-place and others go to the protests. There’s something that everyone can do.” YEF empowers the youth to be the change they want to see throughout our community and around the globe. Please help us spread the word about YEF, and to help engage youth in your community. Learn more here