Youth-led philanthropy programs are making a difference across the country. Through YCI, we are seeing the dedication of young people demonstrated here and now.

Youth for Community Improvement (YCI) committee meetings are in full swing, which means every Wednesday through year-end the atmosphere at the Foundation is energized by the presence of young people.

We have always been proud of our YCI program -- Worcester County’s only non-school youth granting program -- because it empowers teens to engage with their community, collaborate with their peers, and make real funding decisions that benefit our region. So why write about it now?

Youth-led philanthropy is growing across the country, impacting communities in a variety of ways. This brief, composed by the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy, describes how programs like YCI “improve the philanthropic sector by making it more diverse, more inclusive, and informed by the lived experiences and perspectives of young people.”

Here in Central Mass, we are seeing YCI members carry their leadership skills beyond the program. They seek additional opportunities to use their voices and be agents of change. A few examples:

  • A YCI alum independently raised funds, organized, and delivered a leadership training to share the skills she gained through the program with other young people;
  • Several YCI members served as grant reviewers with the New England Environmental Grassroots Funds;
  • In December, a YCI student will speak to the topic of youth philanthropy as part of a panel presentation organized by Philanthropy Massachusetts and Brandeis University;
  • And most recently, our YCI Class of 2018, moved by the issue of homelessness in Worcester, but unable to address it with a grant, began meeting with officials and others explore other ways to make a difference.

As I walk past our board room during YCI meetings and overhear enthusiastic conversations, I am grateful that our young people are working so hard on something that matters so much: civic leadership. They are asking questions like, “How else can I make changes?” This commitment by young people gives me the greatest cause for hope. Supported by organizations like ours in their curiosity and courage, they are working together to make a difference.

Philanthropy, they are learning, is not reserved for the few. Progress is best made through collaboration. And knowing how to advocate and reach consensus are skills for a lifetime.