Anti-Poverty Grants Fund Platforms for Youth Voices

YR Media participants set up a photo shoot. Photo courtesy of YR Media

Advocates for the poor have long argued that most Americans’ assumptions about people who live in poverty are mostly wrong. If only, they say, Americans could see the world from the point of view of those who experience it every day, they might gain a more truer and more sympathetic understanding of the complex issues involved.

That goal is at the heart of a philanthropic effort pouring funds into nonprofit organizations that want to bring those stories to light on a multitude of platforms — including those that will amplify the voice of youth.

On Wednesday,  the Schultz Family Foundation announced grants of $100,000 to each of three organizations that focus on empowering youths individually and collectively. These grants are part of a broader effort led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge

Each grantee will take a different approach to bringing the youths’ stories to light, but all will seek to reshape the national conversation about poverty and economic mobility.

The recipients are:

  • Oakland, California-based YR Media, whose Speak Your Truth Projectwill support young people to produce stories describing how their lives have been affected by foster care and the juvenile justice system to counter stereotypes and engage diverse audiences,” according to the Schultz news release.
  • The University of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, whose Fostering Fairness program will “launch a peer-to-peer education campaign to raise awareness of the unfair policies that prevent former foster youth from escaping poverty,” according to a news release from the institute.
  • Wayne State University, whose Shifting Urban Narratives project “will showcase the inspiring stories of young innovators in Detroit who overcame hardship and carved out opportunities in community development projects, especially amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a Schultz Family Foundation news release.

Elisa Weichel, administrative director and senior staff attorney of the Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law, said the ultimate goal of the institute’s new initiative is to create a resource where foster youth can help each other recognize and avoid the host of pitfalls that stand in the way of successfully climbing out of poverty and achieving financial security.

Challenges for youth aging out of the foster system include unemployment, housing unstable housing and financial insecurity, she said. “These and other obstacles are commonplace for them, in great part due to policies that inhibit their ability to attain self-sufficiency after leaving care,” Weichel said in the news release.

Added Sheri Schultz, president of the Schultz Family Foundation: “We’re committed to leveling the playing field in the face of growing inequality and disparity of opportunity. These grants will bring the voices and experiences of diverse youth to a national audience and deepen our understanding of how to support their success.”

The Gates Foundation and its partners handed out a total of 28 grants of $100,000 each on Wednesday under the Grand Challenge initiative.

Launched last September, more than 1,200 grant applications were submitted. Underwriting the project are the Gates Foundation, the Schultz Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Omidyar Network, Raikes Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. 

Wednesday’s grant announcements follow a similar project unveiled last month that also gives foster youth a platform to tell their stories. A new nonprofit named FosterStrong will be led by those with lived experience, and its founding membership includes 10 former foster youth. Seed money for FosterStrong came from filmmaker Sean Anders. 

Chronicle of Social Change staff reports

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