The youth-led grant making program, Teens 4 Change, involved nine students ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old. Students came together from a number of different Pittsburgh schools and communities to learn about making social change happen, specifically for people their age.  Willa Paterson from Three Rivers Community Foundation (TRCF), the leader of the Teens 4 Change Program, shares her thoughts.

Spark: What is Teens 4 Change? How can you sum it up in a few sentences?

WP: The teens created this mission statement for the program: Teens 4 Change is a youth-led group that encourages and promotes social justice by funding and empowering youth who are seeking to make change in their southwestern Pennsylvania communities. Thanks to a grant from The Grable Foundation, the teens had $7,000 to give away to youth led or youth specific projects. By deciding how to use this money, the high school teens learned about philanthropy and the difference between social change and social service.

Spark: Why do this? What is the value of introducing teens to this process?

WP: It is so important to get students thinking about their community at an early age.  If community service and philanthropy are built into school work and extracurricular activities it gives students a much greater understanding of the amount of work that can be accomplished by coming together for a single goal.

Spark: What was the process they went through?

WP: The program started with a day of learning about the grant making process and doing team-building activities. After the initial session students met every other Tuesday at the East Liberty Library to discuss a specific challenge assigned for the session. For example, one week they had to research a social justice movement that interested them and make a presentation on it in order to better appreciate the historical perspectives of what groups had dealt with in the past.

Each student fulfilled a requirement to do outreach and give a presentation to at least one school group or organization about the grant opportunity.

Spark: How did they make decisions?

WP: Teens 4 Change received 9 grant applications and the students decided to invite each applicant to give a short presentation. This gave the group a better understanding of the direction of the projects and allowed them to ask more detailed questions. The students rated each application on certain criteria from the RFP they had sent out and then had a group discussion about how they rated each application. The strongest applicants were fully funded. Then the students had to decide if they would provide partial funding to the less strong applicants or not fund them at all.

Spark: So what did the teens decide to grant awards to?

WP: Funding was given to:

  • Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh for CampOUT, an alternative summer camp for children ages 6-14 of alternative families
  • Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, Pittsburgh Chapter for the Peer Advocates for Safe Schools (PASS) program, a 10 hour youth leadership and empowerment training program for high school students.
  • M-Powerment for the Clothesline Project, to bring awareness of domestic violence at high schools (Being led by the Youth Advocacy League at Shaler High School)
  • Prime Stage Theatre for the play “Everything is Fine” to tour schools and community organizations to raise awareness about teen dating violence. The play was written, designed, produced, and presented by PST’s Teen Board.
  • Tree Pittsburgh for a project in Homewood that engages teenagers in becoming eco-stewards in their communities by allowing them to help organize tree tending events and take the Tree Tenders course.

Spark: What did the students learn and accomplish?

WP: The students came away with a much greater understanding of TRCF’s mission of Change, not Charity. Most of them had volunteered with some type of charitable organization in the past and for them to see the value of this work but also recognize that there are deeper issues needing to be addressed by society was extremely powerful.

The students also learned a lot about each other, what perspectives they shared and where their perspectives differed given their personal backgrounds and experiences. When asked what they liked most about the program, many students noted the people they had the opportunity to meet and work with. One student said it was “how empowered I felt after each meeting. I never doubted that my opinions and ideas mattered and could/would make a difference.”

Spark: What’s next for the teens and for the program?

WP: Many of the Teens 4 Change board members expressed a strong interest in doing non-profit work in the future and continuing to be proponents of positive social change.

The program ran for its first year thanks to a Grable Foundation grant for the students’ stipends and for the grant making funds.  The students were also asked to fundraise for next year’s round of students, which they did through a Mother’s Day flower basket fundraiser. TRCF is in the process of securing contributions and more grant funding to ensure that this program will be in full swing again next year.