“The youth voice isn’t really heard a lot,” said Youth Congress member Delajuantae Moore. It should be, he added – not only because speaking up on issues that affect them helps students prepare for adulthood, but because they have a lot to offer. “Youth can really make a change when they feel there’s a need to put their minds to it.”
That’s the whole idea behind the 612 Youth Engagement Project (612-YEP), a grant program that supports summer camps and activities for underserved Minneapolis youth. Every year, dozens of organizations apply to 612-YEP for funding to run everything from tennis camps to wilderness adventures. Their proposals are reviewed and approved—or not—by high school students in the Minneapolis Youth Congress.
612-YEP started as a joint venture of The Minneapolis Foundation and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board. Designed in response to the citywide Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence, 612-YEP engages young people to learn about philanthropy and build decision-making skills that will serve them when they become leaders in our community.
In the past six years, thanks to the support of many Donor Advised Funds at The Minneapolis Foundation, 612-YEP has made $1.1 million in grants. In 2016 alone, it funded programs that served more than 1,600 children and teenagers.
612-YEP participants attend a series of meetings every spring to review applications and award grants. Each proposal is considered by multiple readers, with each student examining the program’s budget, the population it serves, how it measures results, and more. Reviewing the applications was a fascinating opportunity, said Youth Congress member Ebony Owens, who enjoyed learning about programs tailored to young people with specific interests or needs, whether they’re passionate about science or came to Minnesota as refugees. Said Owens, “It opened my eyes to the challenges faced by other people.”