Community-Centric Youth Philanthropy: Case Study of Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s Youth
Regional Environmental Council was spotlighted in the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy most recent publication, "Community-Centric Youth Philanthropy: A Case Study of Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s Youth" by Sheryl Seller. REC's spotlight (pg. 16) is included below. Click the attached file for the entire publication!
"REC strives for food justice, meaning fair and equal access to healthy, sustainable, and affordable food, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Their three major programs that aim to achieve these goals include: The Community Farmers Market, which includes a mobile farmers market; the UGROW network that promotes and supports 67 community and school gardens throughout Worcester; and YouthGROW, a youth development program that employs low income teens to maintain two urban organic farms and also complete a curriculum on Professional Development, Leadership Skills, Urban Agriculture, and Social Justice.
In 2019 REC received YCI funding for 2 projects. One grant will bring elementary school students to visit a UGROW Garden space “to see that space and meet some of the youth and broaden the classroom beyond what was possible at the [elementary] school site,” explained Grace Sliwoski, REC’s Director of Programs. The other grant, Sliwoski said, “will focus on updating some of our youth spaces to be more soothing and uplifting.”
YCI’s young people were drawn to REC’s work because of their similarly youth-driven models that encourage and increase peer leadership, consensus building, and youth voice. For example, YouthGROW’s peer leadership model increases young people’s responsibilities year to year as they gain experience maintaining the organic farms. The program has 7 youth leaders: young people who return to the program for a second year and are responsible for hiring future youth employees. In addition, 4 young people who have at least 2 years of experience with YouthGROW are hired back as REC junior staff.
In 2019, there were 250 applicants for only 15 available positions in the YouthGrow program. Sliwoski explained, “Because our category of young people we serve is not defined by any particular barrier” young people are drawn to the program by the opportunity of paid work experience, adult mentorship and support, and by the open door, forever policy that encourages young people to work with REC for more than one year and have the potential to return as REC staff and board members.
Sliwoski explained, “Having those opportunities where there can be power and decision making and responsibility that is real, but is also supported with appropriate education and appropriate mentorship and appropriate peer support, and is realistic in that way, is incredibly valuable.”"