Youth Advisory Council’s record-breaking grants emphasize mental health

In 2023, the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) granted the largest amount in its history: $110,600 in awards. 

The YAC’s 20 high school students from Northwest Ottawa County meet throughout the year to assess issues relevant to area youths, review grant proposals that benefit youth organizations, and look for opportunities to engage and empower young people. 
“The Youth Advisory Council was created to educate youth about philanthropy and engage them in the grantmaking process,” says Hadley Streng, GHACF president, who was part of the initial W.K. Kellogg Foundation Youth Challenge for Community Foundations that established the youth endowment fund. 

“The endowment has grown to be one of the largest YACs in Michigan, resulting in significant funding provided to various programs impacting youth. We are inspired by our youth leaders and how the members of YAC intentionally and passionately care for youth in our community.”
This work is supported by the foundation’s donors to the Youth Fund.

Mental health a key priority
YAC members aligned their grant-making strategy with the Youth Assessment Survey, which monitors health risk behaviors in Ottawa County teens. These include community well-being, physical well-being, and mental health and emotional well-being. 

Mental health programs continue to be an important priority for local teens. The survey results show the proportion of teens who report mental health challenges remains at some of the highest levels since 2007, and the number of teens reporting feelings of depression has increased from 19% in 2007 to 30% in 2021.  
This year, YAC members awarded grants to programs supporting youth mental health initiatives at Arbor Circle, Dunegrass Healing, Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Gracious Grounds, Momentum Center, and Spring Lake Public Schools. 
Arbor Circle’s grant will support the rebuilding and implementation of the Raise Your Voice youth leadership program in Grand Haven Area Public Schools and Spring Lake Public Schools. The training empowers youth to resist peer pressure with kindness and respect.  
Dunegrass Healing will underwrite a weeklong outdoor program this summer in Spring Lake for adolescents ages 13-18, giving teenagers the chance to connect with nature while identifying and learning about their emotions and mental health. 
The grant to Grand Haven Area Public Schools will fund the Pay It Forward class at Grand Haven High School. The course helps students learn empathy through experiences with for-impact organizations and members of their community who are marginalized or who have struggled in the past. The class aims to provide greater leadership opportunities for students and offer “seed money” to create their service projects in the community.  
Gracious Grounds received funding for an youth volunteer program that provides opportunities for Northwest Ottawa teens to partner with residents with developmental disabilities and serve local for-impact organizations and marginalized community members.  
YAC awarded funds to Momentum Center to support a 6- to 10-week teen program at local schools offering weekly sessions on coping skills, self-care and stress management, boundaries and relationships, self-esteem, and feelings/emotions.  
Another program funded by YAC was Spring Lake Public Schools’ Peer Up, a student-run mental health awareness and support group at Spring Lake High School. The group collaborates with mental health professionals to plan and deliver workshops that help Peer Up members grow in their knowledge and understanding of how to address issues of well-being within themselves and others. 
Additional grants in 2023 include:  
Grand Haven Area Public Schools, for All Kids Bike Grand Haven: $4,783 to the Grand Haven Area Public Schools elementary physical education program initiative to teach young 5 and kindergarten students how to ride a bicycle. It is in partnership with the national organization All Kids Bike that has a mission to teach every child in America how to ride a bike.  
Kids Hope USA Zeeland, mentoring elementary and middle school students: $6,000 to support six existing Northwest Ottawa County mentoring programs and launch two new programs at Ferry Elementary and Robinson Elementary. 
Latin Americans United for Progress, program expansion: $18,000 to support the creation of a one-year pilot to recruit, train and support a bilingual instructor to implement the Adelante program for grades 8-11 and Mas Adelante for 12th-grade students at Grand Haven High School. 
Loutit District Library, Black History 101 Mobile Museum visit: $3,500 to help host this traveling exhibit that features over 10,000 artifacts, from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the culture of hip-hop.  
Outdoor Discovery Center, the Healthy Snack Summer Program: $8,000 helped design and implement a healthy snack program during their 2023 summer program.  
Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, capital campaign:  $10,000 supports its expansion and renovation, including adding eight bedrooms, expanding the kitchen and family room, and creating family rooms inside area hospitals. By providing families with a place to stay close to their child's hospital, RMHC West Michigan helps reduce stress, improve mental health, and promote healing. 
Spring Lake District Library, for refresh project: $7,500 supports the construction and furnishing of an updated teen space, as part of SLDL’s remodel and repurposing of its existing building.  
Tri-Cities Family YMCA, Safety Around Water training: $7,960 supported the drowning prevention training for counselors and children participating in the Tri-Cities Family YMCA Summer Day Camp. This program taught lifesaving skills to reduce the rate of drowning and water-related injuries in children. 

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