Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Youth Advisory Committees give Genesee County students an opportunity to learn about philanthropy, according to Alex Dawson, Developmental Program Associate and advisor of the Youth Advisory Committees associated with CFGF. “YAC is the youth grant-making body of CFGF,” she explains. Alex oversees three regional YACs that serve specific regions in Genesee County: Clio, Grand Blanc and South Lakes (Linden, Fenton and Lake Fenton), as well as the Countywide YAC, which serves all of Genesee County. “Membership is open to any Genesee County student interested in serving their community and willing to commit to volunteering,” Alex adds. “Students who become YAC members are engaged in their community and want to make a difference.”
There are 86 YACs in the state of Michigan, according to the advisor. YACs got their start in the 1990s when the W.K. Kellogg Foundation issued a youth challenge as part of the Michigan Community Foundation’s Youth Project. “The purpose is to involve people in philanthropy at a young age,” Alex says. “We are committed to addressing and improving problems concerning young people by funding programs directed toward youth. Belonging to a YAC is good for students and it’s great for the community.”
Currently, the 75 student members of the CFGF YACs represent high schools located in Genesee County. They receive grant applications from local non-profits and organizations, review the proposals and decide how much to grant. “The special thing about it is the youth are making the decisions!” exclaims Alex. “They are the grantmakers.” The four CFGF YACs have granted over a million dollars in the last 25 years.
At CFGF, two YAC members serve on the Board of Trustees. “The students sit with 23 adult trustees and actually have a vote,” Alex explains. “We believe it is important to have a youth voice at the table, and it’s good for the students to make decisions with community leaders.” The students serving in this capacity are Davison High School senior Emerson Unger, the chair of the Countywide YAC; and Fenton High School senior Jacob Newblatt, chair of South Lakes YAC. Both have been involved with YAC for over four years. Serving as youth trustees for the CFGF has given them an opportunity to offer a young perspective on some of the issues. “We have equal voting rights,” Jacob explains. “There are not a lot of foundations that have youth trustees,” noted their advisor. “It’s a big responsibility.” “It’s been very rewarding to learn about being part of a group and being a leader,” Emerson adds.
For both Emerson and Jacob, involvement with YAC has been a life-changing experience. “It’s all about being part of something greater than yourself,” Emerson says, “and learning more about issues that affect the community.” According to Jacob, the experience made him realize how much the community and giving back means to him, and it opened the door for him to give in other ways, such as going on a mission trip to Guatemala. “It’s been very humbling,” Jacob says.
Emerson is active at school and with the community. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the yearbook at Davison High School, and she also volunteers at the Humane Society and in the pediatric and labor department at Hurley Medical Center. Jacob is a member of the National Honor Society at Fenton High School and is involved in two community sports, soccer and lacrosse. Both attend monthly YAC meetings, CFGF board meetings, and community events. “We’re always doing something,” Emerson admits.
Both students have attended the Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference, a three-day event at Central Michigan University for YAC members. According to Alex, the annual conference brings together over 300 youth grantmakers from all over the state to be empowered by learning from each other and deepening their grantmaking skills. “The purpose is to get youth involved in brainstorming and sharing their experiences to become better philanthropists,” explains Emerson. “I loved meeting different groups of people,” says Jacob, adding that he was able to bring back some ideas for benefitting Genesee County residents.
Having leadership roles in YAC has also helped both of these talented students decide what they will do in the future. Emerson plans to attend DePaul University in Chicago to major in urban development or biology. Jacob is leaning toward studying finance at Michigan State University. “Being a member of YAC has taught me a lot about community service and what I want to do in life,” Emerson says. “I’ve enjoyed growing into a leadership role and teaching others has been a
“Serving is my passion,” says Jacob. “One of the highlights has been having the opportunity to meet so many people, and raising awareness to serve others. I will miss the YAC meetings and being on the board of trustees.”
Photography by Eric Dutro
Would you like to become a member of the Youth Advisory Committee?
YAC members benefit by: participating in a real-life leadership experience, learning about the needs of youth in the community, understanding the role of non-profit organizations in the community by reviewing grant requests, gaining decision-making skills and learning to work as part of a diverse group, appreciating the value of service to the community and making many new friends who attend different schools. For more info, contact Alex Dawson, Development and Program Associate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacob Newblatt, chair of South Lakes YAC & Emerson Unger, chair of the Countywide YAC