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'Everybody has the opportunity to make the world a better place'

From left, Yvonne Danko, Erin Brom, Amani Allen and Kaela Theut, youth grant committee members.

For Grand Rapids students who serve as trustees-in-training on the GRCF Youth Grant Committee, giving back to the community goes hand in hand with empowering students to succeed. Anya Zentmeyer discovers how serving on the committee changes individuals as well as the organizations that receive the funds.
If you ask City High School junior Raqhelle Millbrook, college preparedness is the biggest challenge facing students her age today.
 
“College and the entire application process,” Millbrook said. “Having the mental and emotional feel to be ready for it and having that emotional backup, too.”
 
A “Trustee-in-Training” for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Youth Grant Committee, Millbrook was one of the 32 students from all over Grand Rapids area school districts with the power to help their peers overcome challenges like college preparedness, youth employment opportunities and food and nutrition training.
 

From left, Alex Villarreai, Khaysirah Muhammad Smith, Kate Blumenstein and Hanna Creasey, youth grant committee members. The WK Kellogg Foundation established youth grant committees as extensions of community foundations throughout Michigan nearly 20 years ago. Since then, the GRFC Youth Grant Committee alone has awarded over $1 million in grant money back to the community for programs that benefit youth.
 
With around $43,000 each year available through an endowed fund set up upon the committee’s inception, the GRCF Youth Grant Committee awarded a collective $41,325 to 12 different organizations and programs in Grand Rapids for 2013-14 at its May 13 end of the year celebration dinner.
 
Cris Kutzil, advisor to the Youth Grant Committee and co-chair of the GRCF’s Challenge Scholars Program, says college preparedness was a big theme for the students making grant awards this year. In that spirit, committee members awarded $3,500 to Bridge Street House of Prayer’s Resurgence Tutoring Program, $2,500 to the Excel ACT Tutoring and Mentoring Program Expansion at Calvin College, $2,900 grant to Junior Achievement Empowering Economic Success programs in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and $1,8500 to the GRPS’ K-8 institution Harrison Park to provide college campus tours for its fourth through eighth grade students, teachers and parents.
 
“We’ve found that especially in first generation college students that if these conversations haven’t taken place in their families or in their circle of friends about what college looks like, feels like – it’s not something you can just give to someone through a one-time experience,” said Gwen Heatley, Challenge Scholars Program Director at Harrison Park. “No one college represents all colleges.”
 
Gwen HeatleyThe grant awarded by the GRCF Youth Grant Committee will allow for more bussing to accommodate the nearly 1,000 students spanning fourth through eighth grade. Harrison Park’s College Connect program sends fourth graders to Ferris State, fifth graders to Michigan State University, sixth graders to Aquinas College, seventh graders to Grand Valley State University and eighth graders to Calvin College and Davenport.
 
“Now we are able to have every fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade class go on visits to college campuses,” Heatley said. 
 
This isn’t the first time the GRCF has partnered with Harrison Park. In fact, on May 6, the GRCF and GRPS announced a $32 million campaign for its Challenge Scholars Program. Designed in 2011 by the two institutions, the Challenge Scholars Program will provide thousands of West Side students a free college or trade education after graduation through an endowed fund.
 
Challenge Scholars guarantees last-dollar scholarships and extra college readiness support to all sixth grade students at Harrison Park and Westwood Middle School who graduate from Union High School beginning with the class of 2020. More than $26 million has already been raised for the GRCF’s “Rise With Us” campaign, which GRCF President Diana Sieger told the committee members and their families was “the most significant program (GRCF) has ever endeavored.”
 
From left, awardees Devin Jones and Mona Guyton, and grant committee member Austin Young. The Youth Grant Committee visited Harrison Park during the year to learn more about the program and help support fundraising efforts as part of the volunteerism and service component – one of four focus areas for youth grant committees statewide outlined by the WK Kellogg Foundation when it was first established. The others include a comprehensive needs assessment, which is conducted as the first step in the grant-making process and the grant-making process itself, which takes up the bulk of meeting time throughout the year. The final component is fund-raising, Kutzil said.
 
“This year, they all committed to becoming donors themselves,” she said. “Even if it’s just $1, they all said they would contribute.”
 
And contributing to the community is what the Youth Grant Committee is all about.
 
At least, it is for Millbrook, who will be a senior at City High next year and leave her seat on the Executive Committee for the adult Community Foundation Board of Trustees, who gives the final approval to all Youth Grant Committee award recommendations.
 
“I really wanted to be involved more with the community and I thought this was an awesome way to do it,” Millbrook said. “It really takes a different approach in learning the Grand Rapids Community and the needs of it all and trying to give access to everyone in the community with funds to do the projects that they want to.”
 
Millbrook is already making plans for her college career; however, true to the dogma of any good grant-maker, she won’t make any final decisions without knowing where she can make the most impact, first. 
 
“I recently attended a historically black college high school day at Hampton University,” she said. “It was in Virginia and I really love it a lot. I also like Michigan State (University), but I really need to actually branch out to different colleges and visit them to get the feel of the different campuses and really see if it is the place for me.”
 
Diana Sieger, executive director of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.Kutzil said though membership on the committee has inspired some students to train for jobs in the nonprofit sector, its most important function has been inspiring students in the first place.
 
If there is one thing she wants her students walking away from the Youth Grant Committee knowing, she said it is that they understand and value the idea that everybody has the opportunity to make the world a better place.
 
“In many, many different ways,” Kutzil said, “I think that’s sort of a broad enough statement that it applies to students who take different things away, but in some way or another, I think they leave this experience knowing that, ‘I can do something and it’s important that I do that.’”
 
 
 
FULL LIST OF 2013-14 YOUTH GRANT RECIPIENTS
HARRISON PARK SCHOOL
COLLEGE CONNECT received $1,850 to provide college campus tours for its fourth through eighth grade students, their teachers and their parents
 
OLHSA/MICHIGAN YOUTH OPPORUTNITIES INTIATIVE
WE ARE WHAT WE EAT received $2,000 to provide support for food and nutrition training series where youth will learn how to shop for healthy foods, how to cook healthy foods, how food affects their bodies
 
BRIDGE STREET HOUSE OF PRAYERS
RESURGENCE TUTORING PROGRAM received $2,500 to fund the startup of a new tutoring program focusing on elementary and middle school students from the West Side of Grand Rapids
 
CALVIN COLLEGE
EXCEL ACT TUTORING/MENTORING PROGRAM EXPANSION received $2,500 to increase the number of Excel ACT Tutoring and Mentoring Program tutors to prepare 100 local high school students to take the ACT college entrance exam each year
 
ARTISTS CREATING TOGETHER
VISUAL ART & CREATIVE MOVEMENT received $3,000 to underwrite 16 dance and visual arts residencies and 21 creative movement and visual arts workshops
 
JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT USA
EMPOWERING ECONOMIC SUCCESS received $2,900 to inspire and prepare young people in GRPS to succeed in a global economy through classroom experiences
 
BETHANY CHRISTIAN SERVICES
REACH WEEKLY MEETING GROUP received $3,500 to expand youth-directed activities and peer support opportunities for at-risk youth experiences traumatic family situations in the Grand Rapids area
 
URBAN INSTITUTE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS
ARTWORKS SUMMER TEEN EDUCATION PROGRAM received $3,600 to support ArtWorks, the UICA’s five-week summer mentorship, internship and hands-on visual arts class for 36 kids 14-29, giving them a real-life experience in the creative arts
 
CREATIVE YOUTH CENTER
WRITING WORKSHOPS received $3,975 by support workshop leaders and publishing student work
 
D.A. BLODGEETT-ST.JOHN’S
SISTERS IN SUPPORT MENTORING PROGRAM received $5,000 to provide ongoing operational support for a program that matches teen moms with experienced mentors
 
GRAND RAPIDS TRACK CLUB
FIRE SUMMER YOUTH TRACK & FIELD PROGRAM received $5,000 to provide youth from the Grand Rapids area an opportunity to participate in a summer youth track & field program
 
GRANDVILLE AVENUE ARTS & HUMANITIES
TEEN LEADERS IN THE ARTS received $5,000 to provide a leadership program for Grandville Avenue teens that is focused on music, dancing, visual arts, job readiness and traveling

Anya Zentmeyer is freelance reporter in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. She can be reached at anya.zentmeyer@gmail.com or visit her website at anyazentmeyer.squarespace.com.
 
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