The Minneapolis Youth Congress has a motto: “No Decision About Us, Without Us.”
“Decisions that are made in the city oftentimes aren’t made with youth,” said Mekhi Taylor, a freshman at Concordia University in St. Paul who served as a member of Youth Congress when he was in high school. Especially when it comes to issues affecting youth, he said, “It’s good to get a perspective from people who are in that age group, because they might bring things to the table that adults might not think about.”
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, scores of nonprofits and public institutions 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 in 2011 as a joint venture between 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 work with adults to fund summer programs in Minneapolis and beyond.
For the Youth Congress members who volunteer for 612-YEP, “it’s a good opportunity to look at different organizations and clubs in the city and get an idea of what they’re all about, and how useful or beneficial they might be for the youth around us,” Taylor said. Plus, “you get to help groups that your peers might be involved in.”
In the past five years, 612-YEP has made $940,000 in grants. In 2015 alone, it supported programs that served more than 2,500 children and teenagers. 612-YEP is underwritten by many Donor Advised Funds of the Minneapolis Foundation, as well as an annual gift from the Youth Coordinating Board.
612-YEP participants attend a series of meetings every winter to review applications and award grants. It takes the group several evenings just to read all of the applications: each proposal is considered by multiple readers and rated according to uniform metrics. “You have to really take it seriously,” said Amaree Woods, a junior at Washburn High School who reviewed applications last year. “You couldn’t just skim through. You have to really take an interest in what you’re reading and know what you’re looking for.”
The students look at each proposal’s budget, the population it serves, the extent to which young people are involved in the design and implementation of summer camp or program activities, and more. As sophomore Damon Brown put it, “There are a lot of strict rules, and if you follow those rules, you have a better chance of getting what you ask for.”
Then it’s decision time. As a group, the students consider each application one more time, debating the merits of the frontrunners and winnowing the pile to those that will receive grants. “There’s a lot of great projects, and not all of them can get money,” said Jessica Sanchez, a senior at Southwest High School.
612-YEP members work hard to make responsible decisions about how to allocate the program’s grant money. “It was stressful, but it was fun, too,” Taylor said. “It felt good knowing that I had an impact on things that are actually going to launch.”
Want to support 612-YEP? You can! Contribute to the program’s 2016 grantmaking here. (Already have a fund at the Minneapolis Foundation? Make an inter-account grant to 612-YEP by logging in to your fund through DonorView. Then click on the “Donate to Another Fund” tab and search for the Youth Philanthropy Fund. Or you can always contact your Philanthropic Advisor for help!)