Grantmaking by the Community Foundation comes from multiple grantmaking committees and donor advised funds spread throughout the region. Many people are surprised to learn that the actual Foundation Board does very little grantmaking. “It’s not our intent to have a centralized grantmaking organization,” said Hale Walker, the current board chair. “Rather we focus on driving decision making out to all segments of our community, including our young people, primarily via our Youth Advisory Council or YAC.”
Last year YAC granted more than $55,000 to youth organizations and schools. They also engaged in education sessions, team-building events, nonprofit dinners, site visits, and service opportunities. The focus areas of the YAC are; mental health, school life, and positive lifestyles. One of their most impactful recent grants was to Memphis Community Schools for their STEM learning labs. Their grant was leveraged with grant dollars from other Foundation committees as well, which totaled $40,000.
This year YAC leaders are preparing to continue their profound impact during the year ahead. Some attended a leadership conference in June and are getting ready to attend a regional training with three other YACs this month. They’re also planning the upcoming full-group orientation for the 2023-24 year. Here is a look at a few of the bright young leaders this year;
Amara Makim, 17, is a senior at Port Huron Northern High School. She was a sophomore when she heard about YAC from her sister, who is a former member, and she had some other friends who were involved as well. “I decided to join because I thought it would be a great way to learn more about what is going on in our community and it would give me an introduction to philanthropy at a young age,” she said. “I was also interested in the community service aspect of YAC and looked forward to giving back to the community I have lived in my whole life.”
When Amara joined YAC, she came in with the expectation that she would learn a lot and meet people, but she was quiet during meetings because she was afraid the more experienced members would judge her. Instead, she found a place where it was safe to bloom.
“My experience on YAC has been amazing. I learned that all of the members are open to different opinions and our meetings are a judgement-free zone. While I have met tons of new people, their interests are not necessarily the same as mine, which is what makes YAC so special. YAC is filled with diversity. We have kids from all over St. Clair County and they all bring something different to the table. Whether it is different schools, grades, views/opinions, or extracurriculars, we are all very unique.”
Joshua Kriesch, 15, is a sophomore at Yale High School. He joined YAC as a freshman after his principal recommended it. From there, he said, he looked into it and just had to be a part of it.
“From a small school in a cornfield, I didn’t know how much of a difference I could make. Although I was confident I could make a difference, I wasn’t quite sure how when I first joined,” he said. “After we did some practice grants, I knew I was going to like this. By my second meeting, I was already speaking up and voicing my opinion on the grants.”
For Kriesch, the opportunity to make a difference has been profound, and he’s excited to grow in his role with YAC. “I have seen so many changes and people’s dreams come true with a little push from our foundation and I couldn’t be prouder,” he said. “I’ve found many positive people sitting in the corner with their ideas and not being confident enough to speak up. YAC gives everyone a shot to talk their minds and say their opinions. If you are thinking of joining, I say go for it.”
Dylan Distelrath, 17, attends St. Clair High School, and joined YAC as a sophomore after hearing about it from his two older brothers. “I decided to join because I wanted to do what I could to help the community and especially kids my age in the area that are struggling,” he said. “I’m not really sure what I expected but I know we as a YAC help way more than I thought we were going to, and I love it. My YAC experience has been amazing. We have a great group and I think we have done our best to maximize on helping as much as we can.”
Dylan’s favorite YAC experience so far was delivering a check to someone at his school to create a program to buy books for kids and schools in the area. He said it was awesome to see up close the impact YAC has.
“Not only does YAC benefit the community but it provides me and all the members valuable philanthropic experience and allows us a chance to give back to the community,” he said. “I would recommend YAC to students thinking about joining.”
Quintein Griffin, 17, is a senior at Port Huron High School. He heard about YAC through his family, and they encouraged him to join in 2021. He said he expected to just give money out but has found the experience to be much more enriching. “My YAC experience has been amazing so far,” he said. “I went to the Michigan Community Foundation’s Youth Project (MCFYP) this summer and it was an amazing time to be had, and I was also made vice president of my YAC this year, so I’m really excited about this whole project in my life.”
Quintein’s favorite experience so far, he said, was probably helping package things for homeless people, because it made him feel like he was really doing something to help.
“I would recommend it because it really does change the look on the world and it helps you grow as a person,” he said. “It benefits us because with all the work we’ve done, it gives us job openings in the future, and it gives us a good name also.”
Hannah Dado, 15, is a sophomore at Marysville High School. She joined YAC last year after some of her teachers recommended her, thinking it sounded like a fun way to get involved. “I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was excited to be a part of it,” she said. “It has been very relaxing and impactful at the same time. My favorite thing I’ve done is helping decide what to grant.”
Hannah said she likes that YAC can help members of the community achieve their goals while giving teens a chance to have a larger impact as part of the Community Foundation than they could have on their own. It is also a fun way to improve life skills such as budgeting and working with a group, while helping others in the process.
Shealyn A. Swain, a junior at Memphis Jr/Sr High, has been a part of YAC since she was a freshman and heard about it from her guidance counselor. She decided to join because she finds it important to help others, and even got a friend to join along with her. “I expected chaos, no one wanting to be there, and not really helping others,” she said. “I’m glad how wrong I was though! My experience has been wonderful! Others are really helpful when it comes to a busy schedule.”
Her favorite project so far was being able to help her own school build a lab for alternative learning – something she gets to personally see in use every day. Knowing the impact YAC can have makes it appealing, and she recommends it to other students who would like to see the same.
Lauren Zink, 15, is a sophomore at Yale High School, and joined YAC last year after hearing about it from her sister, Lily. “I decided to join YAC because I’ve always known I want to make a change in the world and I want to help others and make a positive impact on people, so I thought this would be an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I would not only be making a positive impact on people, but people from my own community. I expected a lot of work that would have to be put into this opportunity and also a lot of dedication. YAC is a very big responsibility, and I was willing to commit to it.” So far, she said, her experience has been positive, and she’s created a lot of new relationships, both locally and at the MCFYP leadership conference.
As the last school year came to an end, YAC bid farewell to 14 graduating seniors, which means there is plenty of space for more future leaders to join in on the excitement of giving to the community. Applications are being accepted for any ninth- or tenth-grade students attending Capac, Algonac, Port Huron Northern, Cardinal Mooney, Marine City, Marysville, or Memphis high schools, as well as homeschooled students in St. Clair County.
To find out more or fill out the new member application, visit the YAC information page.