First Grant from African American Heritage Fund Connects Youth to Democracy

This summer, while many young people are riding bicycles or playing video games, those involved in the New Hope Baptist Church Summer Youth Program are learning about our government and how it works through Youth Engaged in Government. This component is a new addition to New Hope’s Summer Youth Program, which serves approximately 100 young people ages six to16 on Grand Rapids southwest side.

“With the upcoming election, we saw this as an opportunity to teach youth about the electoral process and help them understand the current political events that surround them,” said Courtney James, a teacher at East Kentwood High School who is heading Youth Engaged in Government.

Through research, art, group activities and field trips, the youth in the program are exploring age appropriate concepts to learn about local, state and national government structures and the importance of democracy.

As part of Youth Engaged in Government, older students held primaries to elect leaders of two parties, identified platforms and created proposals for improving the Summer Youth Program experience. They worked together to solve issues like lunch room efficiency and the use of free time. Meanwhile, younger students designed flags and currency. They learned about government structures and created diagrams and charts. Participants have also met local African American elected officials to inspire them to serve their communities in the future.

Youth Engaged in Government has been made possible in part by a grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s African American Heritage Fund. This is the first ever grant awarded from the fund. “This is a historical grant for the African American Heritage Fund and I am so proud of the experience we are making possible for these young people,” said Bev Drake who serves on the African American Heritage Fund’s grant review committee.

The Summer Youth Program began in mid-June and ends this week. Selected participants of Youth Engaged in Government will conclude their experience with a visit to the Mayor’s office where they will take a tour and have the opportunity to talk with elected officials about what they’ve learned this summer.

Here are the details of this event:
What: Youth Engaged in Government Class Visits Grand Rapids Mayor’s Office
When: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9 a.m.
Where: City of Grand Rapids, 300 Monroe Avenue NW

About the New Hope Baptist Church Summer Youth Program The program, offered each summer by New Hope Baptist Church, engages youth to overcome the barriers of illiteracy, poverty and gang violence by establishing healthy long-term mentoring relationships, access to vital academic resources and access to year-long educational tutoring. The goal of the program is to nurture resiliency and performance in young people who are at risk of failing to fulfill their potential in order to prepare these students to eliminate the barriers of poverty and to inspire them to lead in their communities.

About the African American Heritage Fund Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s African American Heritage Fund was launched in spring 2006. The focus of the Fund is to build the capacity and support programs of nonprofits that are led by and/or serve African American communities.