In recent months, our nation has been gripped by uncertainty and fear. Tested but undeterred, young people have led by example and shown communities across the country the path to recovery with their perseverance, determination, and resolve.
America’s Promise Alliance designed and executed the Power of Youth Challenge — an initiative to seek out young people who already are making a difference in their communities and provide them with a $250 grant to further their efforts. The initiative is made possible through support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Over the past six months, we’ve received applications to work on issues like supporting youth in foster care, increasing LGBTQ+ representation, improving literacy, addressing mask shortages, supporting our teachers, and providing sanitation kits to underfunded communities.
This year, America’s Promise Alliance — with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation — has funded more than 100 youth-led projects. Through the lens of these young leaders in more than 32 states, we are able to envision how neighborhoods and towns will start to rebuild their economies and lives. For most, it will be a massive undertaking, requiring the support of students and teachers, rural community members and ones who live in sprawling urban centers, those living in a food desert and those living amidst bustling markets.
America’s Promise Alliance will use its platform in the following months to amplify the work of youth leaders in communities across the country. Below, we are offering a spotlight to 10 impressive grant winners who are representative of those diverse communities and coalitions.
Amigos de México, Kristie M. (Irvine, California)
The Mexican-American community in California has an important role in the state’s culture, traditions, and history. Grant winner Kristie M. noticed that there’s nonetheless a lack of awareness and understanding for the community — and she immediately began to plan a project that would address this issue. Amigos de México incorporates online education programs, cultural activities, and discussion of current events to give her project’s participants a broad and in-depth understanding of the issues that the Mexican-American community in California face.
Care Relief Package, Mahbuba S. (Detroit, Michigan)
Mahbuba isn’t worried about going to school in the fall — she’s looking forward to learning. Hoping to share that enthusiasm with students in underserved communities, she started an effort to offer peers care packages to promote positivity and connection. She will personalize the kits before safely distributing them: equipping them with healthy snacks, stress balls, a flyer for a homework help hotline, and a hand-written letter. With a mission to engage students around the Michigan region, this Power of Youth Grant Winner hopes to excite her fellow peers for the upcoming school semester.
Insight Club, Gayatri P. (Troy, Michigan)
Project Instagram: @iaeinsightclub
COVID-19 has left school administrators scrambling to finalize plans for the fall semester, leaving some supplementary educational enrichment and extracurricular activities undetermined. Gayatri, along with co-founder Pavithra, noticed the uncertainty around fall programs that focus on paying taxes, applying for internships, and monitoring credit scores, and they decided to form a club to share resources on finance and career opportunities with their peers. They have since transitioned to Zoom calls, as they seek to modify their project and outreach to other schools during this unprecedented time.
Luggage for Hope, Hannah N. (Wolfe City, Texas)
Project Twitter: @LuggageForHope
Youth in foster care are frequently moved from one foster home to the next, often with little to no warning. Consequently, many resort to carrying their belongings in a trash bag as they pick up their lives and move to another community. Grant winner Hannah N. is determined to provide youth in foster care with the dignity and respect they deserve as their environment shifts. Her project, Luggage for Hope, collects donated luggage and will use the Power of Youth Challenge mini-grant to distribute to youth in foster care around her Texas community.
Menstrual Equity in Prisons, Samantha P. (Madison, New Jersey)
New Jersey rising high school senior Samantha P. spent weekends and nights this past year on her project, Menstrual Equity in Prisons. Recognized by the Jane Goodall Institute, Peace First, and other community organizations, this initiative attempts to provide thousands of menstrual products to the incarcerated community. Samantha has already reached that goal, distributing 25,000+ in the past year, and she’ll use funding from the Power of Youth Challenge to accelerate her efforts. Along with her donations, she is simultaneously battling limited media attention on the issue by drafting petitions and lobbying to end period poverty around the country.
Project Falcon, Rayan G. (San Jose, California)
Project Instagram: @elevatethefuture; LinkedIn: Elevate the Future; Website: www.elevatethefuture.org
Small businesses in communities across the country struggled in March to transition their customer outreach to a virtual setting. In Rayan G.’s California community, that trend has only continued. To help small business owners reach new audiences and support their company, Rayan has worked with other students — who have experience in web design — to create free websites for organizations around his area.
Sewing Masks for First Responders of COVID-19, Kiana K. (Morton Grove, Michigan)
Many healthcare workers across the country lack access to the proper personal protective equipment that is necessary to keep themselves and their families safe. Power of Youth grant winner Kiana wanted to find a way to support essential healthcare workers as they risk their well-being to care for others. Kiana combined her love of sewing, with her desire to help those who put others first. Thus began her initiative of making reusable masks that fit over N95 respiratory masks to extend the amount of time they can be safely worn. We are proud to be able to support Kiana as she innovates new ways to help essential workers in her community and across the country while following social distance guidelines.
STEM With Hope, Esperanza L. (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Esperanza noticed that a significant number of Minnesotan urban community members are struggling with food insecurity. Her project has transitioned in the era of COVID-19, as more people lose their jobs or find it difficult to travel far away to purchase food. Esperanza’s project, STEM With Hope, confronts this issue directly. With youth engagement and programming to teach the process of growing food and understanding the impact of healthy nutritional choices, she is living up to her mission statement: “Healthy food is a necessity, not a privilege.”
The Literacy Initiative, Agha H. (Ballwin, Missouri)
Project Website: http://literacy-initiative.org/; Facebook: @theliteracyinit; Twitter: @theliteracyinit; Instagram: @theliteracyinitiative
Agha’s project, along with dozens of other applications, was conceptualized before the pandemic struck. With an emphasis on youth development, STEM, and literacy programs, Agha had created an after-school initiative for students in underserved communities to serve as educational enrichment. He has quickly pivoted since March, planning a global virtual camp and online lessons for students left without easy access to education opportunities. In just five months, he’s already impacted over 1,000 students with her project, The Literacy Initiative.
U Matter, Reina C. (Rockville, Maryland)
Project Instagram: @umatter_apparel
Reina created a community of youth connection and mental health support with her project: “U Matter.” In collaboration with Caring Connections, a local crisis support organization, Reina distributes care packages to young girls from low-income communities who struggle with mental health challenges. Each care package includes tie-dye sweatshirts, mental health resources, and support notes from peers. In return, each recipient has the option to send an anonymous note to the next recipient, creating a community of hope and connection in each care package. Reina’s project inspires her peers to support each other through adversity and bring awareness to the importance of mental health.