The central role that youth are playing in today’s social movements is nothing new. From the beginning, they have given life to these movements with their indomitable courage and passion, fresh insights and solutions, and unique perspectives and experiences. What fluctuates is our society’s attention to — and support for — youth voice and leadership. Connecting young people with the tools, skills, and resources to realize their visions for community change is at the heart of YLI’s mission, and our Youth Fund was designed with exactly this in mind.
The Youth Fund was seeded in November 2016, when a roomful of generous donors raised their paddles at our YLI 25 Gala, raising $42,000 to be invested in youth-led projects. For program staff and youth leaders in the room, this profound show of confidence in our work was nothing short of overwhelming. In fall of 2017, YLI’s Advisory Committee partnered with youth leaders from Fresno, San Mateo, Marin, and San Francisco to create a process for soliciting, selecting, and funding a handful YLI youth leaders to implement community projects that address the most urgent social justice issues.
The YLI Advisory Committee received 6 applications requesting a total 60,000, showing a great need to continue to invest in youth-led projects for our YLI youth. In order to be considered, projects needed to be youth-led, partner with a YLI adult ally, and to be a new project to YLI. Four projects were selected, and grantees were notified last week. These included:
Environmental Justice in Fresno, CA
The Kieshaun White Healthy Experiment is a project that looks at air pollution in different areas of Fresno, CA. Stage 1 of this project presented Kieshaun’s research results, showing that poorer areas with more minorities have more air pollution, on a website and social media pages. The Youth Fund grant will help him to launch Stage 2, which will involve developing an app that will measure air quality in Southwest and Southeast Fresno. Upgrades to the website will educate residents about the levels of pollution in their communities in real time, and explain to them how air pollution can lead to cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other chronic diseases that impact their health and wellbeing.
Immigration Justice in San Mateo County, CA
Youth leaders in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay will collaborate to lead a day-long “School for Immigration Justice,” educating youth throughout San Mateo County about the struggles immigrants in the U.S. face in their daily lives and directing them to Know Your Rights trainings. The School will serve to bring young people together to share their experiences, while kicking-off our project to create an anthology of creative writing pieces and photographs that highlight youth and adult immigrant voices in the county. The purpose of this anthology is to change the narrative about immigrants that mainstream media has been reinforcing in recent news cycles by sharing stories that empower immigrant youth and adults. The project will also offer a $500 Immigrant Youth Award to undocumented youth to pursue their educational goals.
Social Justice in Marin County, CA
This project will provide fellowships to 4-5 young people of color and low income youth in Marin County to build their leadership skills; prepare them to address racism, ageism, and economic inequality; and develop the professional skills that will open the doors to be hired by a nonprofit or other community employer in the future. The Fellows will partner with YLI staff to lead community change campaigns that will address inequities, such as homelessness and substance abuse. They will then support youth to lead campaigns. The goal is to position youth who have had firsthand experiences of racism, ageism, and economic inequality to successfully lead social justice work in Marin.
Housing Justice in Merced, CA
In 2017, a survey in Merced County found that there are a total of 454 displaced individuals — statistics were not offered, however, on displaced and homeless youth. Youth leaders will conduct research through video journals and surveys, putting a face to the daily struggle and shed light on a largely unconsidered population. The research will be screened for the benefit of elected officials, creating an opportunity for youth and decision-makers to implement true change for homeless and displaced youth. The long term goals are to provide displaced and homeless youth with:
- Food certainty through the use of food vouchers
- Physical and mental health resources, including easy access to qualified counseling services and free or reduced clinical consultations
- Employment opportunities and leadership programs
Youth leaders will be launching these projects in the coming months.