GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV)-There are many opportunities to connect young people to positive change. It can mean providing opportunities for service learning, media-making, political action, and other methods. Giving youth a platform where their voice to be heard for high school students is a learning tool, a community connection, and a lifelong influence. High school students can conduct broad examinations of social, educational, political, legal, or cultural bias against young people, and develop specific and concrete projects that respond to their observations.
It is often a cultural norm for young people to be habitually disengaged from the decision-making that affects them most. Ionia County Community Foundation Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) with teens from seven high schools (Belding, Ionia, Saranac, Lakewood, Portland, Pewamo Westphalia and Lowell) provide an opportunity for to use student’s voices to make change in their communities. After an examination of local issues, YAC developed projects on teen leadership, teen driver safety and childhood food insecurity.
It is often the “popular” kids chosen as leaders, as other kids miss out on the opportunities to rise as a leader. Adolescents who lacked the opportunity to lead while growing up might struggle to develop leadership skills later in life. Having teens meet outside of school hours, and giving them the chance to be leaders in a group of unfamiliar people allows them to become leaders without worrying about popularity at school. It is then, when teens learn that leadership is just not a popularity contest. YAC’s Michigan Youth Leadership Training initiative provides that opportunity to local youth in West Michigan.
One of the initiatives they focus on is the Strive To Arrive Alive Conference.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In fact, adolescents are twice as likely as adults are to get into an accident. The first 18 months after teens get their license are the most dangerous. During that time, new drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into an accident. The reason: inexperience and a tendency to get distracted, studies now show. YAC’s annual teen driver safety events help educate their peers on driving safety.
Another initiative is the IM KIDS 3rd Meal Program. Seven hundred children ages 5-14 in 11 schools identified as food insecure through a child referral process are provided an evening meal from the IM Kids 3rd Meal program in Ionia and Montcalm counties. YAC has raised funds, held food drives and volunteered to support IM Kids 3rd Meal’s effort to address childhood hunger.
The impacts of childhood food insecurity:
- Studies have found that students who face food insecurity do not receive the nutrition that they need to learn.
- Food insecure children are at a higher risk of health issues leading to increased absenteeism than other children impacting their learning.
- Food insecurity is also a known psychological & emotional stressor which affects a child’s behavior.
This type of work is not done without the support of community partners. A key partner has been State Farm and local State Farm agents. State Farm has worked with YAC over the last ten years to support youth efforts to address issues identified by them. State Farm recently provided a $40,000 grant to support YAC’s work. Local State Farm agents provide support by working hand in hand as volunteers and supporting their efforts to raise money and collect food donations with YAC members.
Ionia County Community Foundation YAC wants to thank State Farm and local State Farm agents for the impact that they make on youth in our communities, utilizing grants and agent volunteerism. Not only do they make a difference but they inspire and empower young people to get involved in their communities to create a positive, sustainable, and measurable social impact.