By Skana Gee
When Scott Graham talks about the Youth Empowerment Program at Edmonton Community Foundation, his enthusiasm is unmistakeable.
And it’s not due solely to the projects funded in 2011, the inaugural year – which included a youth literacy initiative, a queer prom, a battle of the bands, and an Aboriginal photography exhibit. His excitement also has a lot to do with the YEP grants committee itself.
Youth granting had been on the Edmonton Community Foundation’s radar for a while when a donor – a member of one of the foundation’s founding families – stepped forward to help. A great community organizer when she was young, the unnamed donor was keen on youth leading the way on their own projects. She provided a gift of $50,000, which then attracted other donations.
Preparing for its first granting period in spring 2011, the foundation relied on social media to spread the word to “a new generation of grant seekers.” It also worked closely with the public and Catholic school boards and reached out to school principals and counsellors, provincial education representatives, and youth-oriented charities.
With flexible guidelines and a user-friendly process, the committee (which reflects the junior high to college age of its grant applicants) has heard about a range of potential projects, and has awarded $68,940 – grants range from $500 to $3,000 – to date.
Successful applicants have included an initiative aimed at youth homelessness, a mural-making and documentary project, a program that helps Rwandan immigrants connect to their community, and a floor-hockey challenge.
“We were not surprised, but we were impressed, with the number of socially responsible grant requests that came in,” says Graham. “We had a kid from the local arts high school who wanted to make a zombie movie to raise awareness about homelessness – it just jumped off the page.”
The grants committee, whose members come from diverse backgrounds, never ceases to amaze, he says.
“These are committed youth who are really community minded and altruistic and selfless,” he says. “They come really prepared, and they’re very careful about allocating funds … There was spirited discussion and nobody was shy about expressing an opinion. They disagreed and they hashed it out and they came to a consensus.”
The donor has been “thrilled” with the outcome, and funding will continue for the time being, with the next announcement of successful grant applicants expected in late March.
Skana Gee is Communications Coordinator with Community Foundations of Canada.