GREENVILLE — Through the Greenville Area Community Foundation (GACF), Montcalm Prevention Collaborative and Greenville Rotary Club, area youth not only have a way to get involved in their community; they also have a leadership role and a voice.
The GACF’s Greenville Youth Advisory Council, the collaborative’s Montcalm Youth Wellness Committee, and Rotary’s Greenville Interact Club all offer opportunities for youth to learn how they can have a positive impact on their community that, ultimately, will change their own lives for the better.
Greenville Youth Advisory Council
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation challenged the Greenville community 28 years ago to raise funds to establish a fund similar to its own Youth Endowment Fund, which provides a funding resource for youth to support youth-related projects or programs through grants. In return, it would match those funds to give young people the chance to participate in and experience philanthropy for themselves.
“We are so thankful that our community rose to the occasion to meet the challenge from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation,” said GACF President and CEO Alison Barberi.
That challenge led to the creation of the Greenville Youth Advisory Council. With the interest on that $1 million endowment fund, over the years the GYAC has made grant decisions valued at over $926,400 to address youth-related needs in the community, addressing causes from academic stress, bullying and cyberbullying to prejudice, substance abuse and more.
GYAC President Ashton Brimmer joined the GYAC after sixth grade because she wanted to be able to make a difference in her community. The GYAC has taught her many valuable lessons, not only in philanthropy but in life in general.
“It has taught me so many important leadership skills and how to communicate. I have learned that my actions make a difference to the people,” Ashton said. “I think the GYAC has benefited me in ways I never could have imagined, and I am very proud to be able to say that I was part of such a positive and influential organization.”
GYAC members are Greenville High School and Middle School students — they can join after sixth grade — who are actively involved in learning how important it is to look beyond themselves and to be involved in their community, especially by donating money. The average length of involvement is four years, but some have been members for up to six years.
“It’s so cool to see their growth over that span of time and over so many different areas,” said GYAC advisor and middle school teacher Emily Mason. “The hope is when the youth have these experiences, they will continue to be philanthropists.”
What Mason loves about the group is that over so long a period, group members have the opportunity to gain a thorough understanding of the community’s needs. They complete a needs assessment for their community every three years and then use that assessment to do their grant-making. They engage in service, too.
“We are giving of our time, talents and treasures, and that varies from person to person and what they have to offer,” Mason said.
Members can attend a summer Youth Philanthropy Conference hosted by the Council of Michigan Foundations, where they learn leadership skills. Youth also are mentored by the GACF Board of Trustees and GYAC advisors and staff.
“The Greenville Youth Advisory Council has done a tremendous job bringing a youthful voice to grant-making at the Greenville Area Community Foundation over the years,” Barberi said. “They have benefited from passionate advisors who have helped YAC members develop their leadership skills and to learn about philanthropy. Our GACF trustees have even adopted some of the GYAC grant-making procedures and hold each year’s membership in high esteem.”
When Josh Januzelli joined the GYAC in seventh grade, like most youth he didn’t know anything about money management or community service.
“I had heard words like ‘philanthropy’ and ‘service,’ but I never understood what it really meant,” Januzelli said. “My curiosity led to me joining the GYAC.”
This year, Januzelli is the GYAC treasurer and grant chairperson. Throughout his six years as a member, he’s learned what it means to be a member of a community, and as an E-board member, “a tremendous amount” about leadership and communication, he said.
“The best part of GYAC is being able to make a difference as a kid,” Januzelli said. “Very few high schoolers get the opportunity to make a lasting impact on their community and to be able to help out people who they may never have met. Having the ability to help out fellow youth and to make a difference in their life is something that I’ll never forget.”
The entire community benefits when youth grow and gain leadership skills and an understanding of philanthropy, said Mason. The easiest one to see is the financial contributions the youth make through grant-making, an average of $50,000 a year.
“It also allows the community to see the youth in a little different sense. In some cases, it’s easy for the community to view youth in some negative highlights, but this promotes what youth can do given the opportunity,” Mason said.
Another benefit of the organization is the empowerment of the youth and the opportunity for youth voice in the community.
“It is common for adults to determine what should or shouldn’t be for our youth, but to actually listen to the youth for their opinion and to understand their needs is incredibly valuable in gaining understanding,” she added. “Working with this group consistently gives me hope and enthusiasm.”
The Lakeview Youth Advisory Council, comprised of Lakeview High School and Middle School students works similarly with the Lakeview Area Community Foundation, an affiliate of the GACF, to award money to organizations that serve the youth of the Lakeview area.
“The GYAC is leaving a wonderful legacy and we look forward to their community service and compassion for those in need well into the future,” said Barberi.
To learn more about the GYAC, visit gacfmi.org/youth online.
Montcalm Youth Wellness Committee
The Montcalm Youth Wellness Committee was formed in 2017 when leaders from the collaborative went to trainings and discovered that many other community coalitions had a youth group component, said Montcalm Prevention Collaborative Coordinator Jodie Faber.
The committee is composed of representatives in eighth through 12th grades from public school districts in Montcalm County. The group’s mission is to reduce substance use among youth.
Ashton Brimmer is president of the committee. A senior this year, she joined in the eighth grade.
“This group is very important to me because I’ve had people I’m very close to overdose. I see my peers abusing substances on a daily basis,” Brimmer said. “I joined because I wanted to make a positive impact. I want to be able to facilitate positive social change across my community.
Twice a year, in February and July, youth can attend the National Youth Leadership Institute as part of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) annual trainings, were they gain leadership skills, learn about policymaking, how to develop an effective advocacy campaign, and meet with legislators to practice “lobbying” on behalf of the youth in the county.
“Thousands of youth attend, so it’s a great networking opportunity to get fresh ideas,” Faber said.
Youth also learn tools to effect social change, like logic models, where they assess and analyze community problems, risk factors and local conditions; and strategic and action planning to tackle the issues that are important to them, like vaping and social media’s impact on mental health.
“During the course of years, they develop their plans and then implement them in their school districts,” Faber said.
Brimmer joined the CADCA Youth Training team this past year. CADCA uses its highly selective “Training of Trainers” course to choose and equip its next generation of national youth trainers — those with a passion to empower other young people to take action around drug use prevention.
After an extensive application process, only 22 youth trainers were selected from hundreds of applications across the nation. Two of them are from Montcalm County. One is Chase Taylor from Lakeview; the other is Brimmer.
“We work to train coalitions all over the world on how to strengthen the capacity of their coalitions and to create drug-free communities across the globe. We set up training sessions and conferences across the nation to provide coalitions with the skills to be able to help facilitate change within their own communities,” Brimmer said. “This organization has taken me all across the country, teaching me new strategies on how to help my community and how to strengthen my leadership skills. Community involvement is a key part of being a successful member of society.”
The Montcalm Youth Wellness Committee also participates in parent-teacher conferences, open houses, the Greenville Public Schools Block Party and other events to educate within the schools and beyond.
“The kids really work hard doing those kinds of things, trying to get their message to the community outside of the school building,” Faber said.
For more information, find the Montcalm Youth Wellness Committee on Facebook.
Greenville Interact Club
The Greenville Rotary Club’s motto is “Service above self,” and that’s the value that Greenville Interact Club Adviser Amy Homich tries to instill in her club’s members.
The Interact Club is the youth offshoot of Rotary for ages 12 to 18. Members do local service projects and have the opportunity to go on international projects as well, such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, “wherever our regional group goes,” according to Homich.
“Mostly these kids have a heart for service and want to help people,” she said.
On Oct. 17 the group is planning a Rake ’n Run, where they gather addresses for elderly people who can’t take care of their yards or those who don’t have the funds to do so.
“Churches will tell us different people in need. We rake their yard to the curb, and then disperse and move on to the next yard,” Homich said. “People are so appreciative.”
At an in-person meeting this week at Homich’s office, group members decorated 80 sacks for IM KIDS 3rd Meal, a feeding program that serves food-insecure children in Ionia and Montcalm counties and learned about food insecurity and how it affects the community and children. They also voted to send along a $200 check to buy food for the bags.
Because IM KIDS 3rd Meal IM focuses on elementary school-age children, club members talked about how to help high school youth with a third meal. They may plan a food drive to collect items older students could grab and take home for a third meal.
“The food thing has hit them hard, and they’re wanting to help fix that problem,” said Homich.
In the past, the club has hosted a Santa Week at the intermediate school district, and collected items for a Santa Shop where students could pick out gifts for family. They held a Valentine’s Day Senior Prom at Green Acres, where youth, dressed in prom dresses and suits, spent the evening dancing with the residents to music provided by a DJ.
“Everything these kids do, they get to see things they wouldn’t normally know about,” Homich said. “It’s a great eye-opening for them in their community, as well as giving back. I really feel blessed I can be part of it with them. It gives a different viewpoint of the youth in the community.”
To learn more, visit ridistrict6290.org and click on Youth.