Editor’s Note: Youthprise, a Minneapolis philanthropy organization, provides a range of services to youth in the local community. Not only do they work to serve youth, but they also work alongside young people at an administrative level by requiring half of the organization’s board members to be between the ages of 16-24. This organization models putting your money where your mouth is in terms of youth representation, and acts as a great reminder that the most important voices to listen to when designing youth programming are often the target audience–youth! How can you involve young people in your program improvement strategies?
Earlier this year, Irina Barrera began making plans to represent her organization, Youthprise, at a national conference on expanded learning. Youthprise is a Minneapolis philanthropy organization whose mission is to reduce the disparities among youth in Minnesota.
“We were planning on young people submitting videos for the conference [that showed the work they were doing],” said Barrera, the organization’s director of research.
But a young person on the Youthprise board asked: Why not take people rather than their videos to the conference?
Yes! Barrera thought. She realized — once again — something she already knew: You can lose sight of possibilities if you don’t have the perspective of youth.
Which is why Youthprise reserves half its board seats for youth ages 16-24. And why the board has dual leadership — one young person and one adult co-chair. In addition, youth are embedded in the organization as staff.
In 2018, this charity led by youth and adults provided $4 million in grants to Minnesota organizations and individuals. Through the Opportunity Reboot project, grantees created career pathways for young people disconnected from school and work, providing training, certification and jobs.
In partnership with Hennepin County, it has supported a teen health program that includes, at the behest of youth, an education group led by teen parents to provide resources and support to other young parents.
Another undertaking was to start the first YouthBank in the United States. YouthBanks are run by young people who raise money and make grants to other youth so they can address local issues affecting them.
It also makes grants to organizations for youth-led research projects. For example, the Asian American Storytellers project received funding to document the historical, political and cultural history of Asian American youth in Minnesota.
“For three years, young people have been the majority of the grant panel,” Barrera said. “They get to review what organizations are proposing.”
The people impacted by the problem are often the ones who have the best solutions, said Wokie Weah, president of Youthprise. “It’s important to have the perspective of the people who are receiving the funding,” she said. It’s important to center young people in decisions that impact their lives, she believes.
Racial equity and youth engagement are core values at Youthprise. Many of its youth are young people of color.
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