This past October, Rob Collier, former president of the Council for Michigan Foundations, invited me to be a closing plenary speaker for the CMF Annual Conference. The featured speaker for the event was Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect and an entrepreneur. His knowledge about philanthropy and its role in bettering our communities is incredible. His experiences traveling around the world, speaking to community organizations internationally gives him a perspective that is wonderful to hear and read about. During his speech, he talked about some of the issues facing the philanthropic community. He also challenged foundations to come up with innovative solutions for those problems, such as collaboration between foundations.
Philanthropy and community service have been central to my journey through high school. I have tried to put both into action through the Youth Grant Committee at Grand Rapids Community Foundation, where I have been on the Executive Board and currently serve as Co-Chair, the Mayor’s Youth Council where I have served as Secretary and President, and through political volunteer work.
Through the Youth Grant Committee, I was able to join the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP) Committee. In the MCFYP Committee, I met Rob Collier who has an amazing passion for youth philanthropy. He helped guide and encourage the committee, and is an inspiration to us. Having Rob ask me to participate in the panel for CMF was truly an honor.
Presenting with the other panel speakers was an amazing opportunity and one that I will take with me as I continue to engage in the community. After Frans Johansson’s speech, Mark Van Putten, president and CEO of Wege Foundation, Kate Pew Wolters, president of Kate and Richard Wolters Foundation, and I joined him on stage for a conversation. Frans asked us questions related to our experiences with philanthropy. I focused on observations I have made over my years on the Youth Grant Committee and Mayor’s Youth Council. An important reflection that I commented on during the discussion was while it is important to have youth on boards and for youth committees to exist, there needs to also be interactions between both adult and youth boards and the actual youth in the community. If the boards simply act in their own bubble, there is very little difference in the decisions made by adult and youth boards, because those decisions take place in the same environment and under the same leadership.
Being able to speak with foundation leaders across Michigan and the amazing Frans Johansson, Mark Putten and Kate Wolters gave me invaluable insight into the works of difference makers across the world. I am grateful to have gained this experience. It was a great example of how becoming involved in programs such as the Youth Grant Committee have a lasting impact on how you view issues and solutions to the world’s problems.
Riley is a senior at City High and co-chair of Grand Rapids Community Foundation's Youth Grant Committee. Students from public, private and home-school high schools throughout greater Grand Rapids make up the Community Foundation's YGC. During the school year, Youth Grant Committee members meet and assess youth issues, develop a request for proposals process to address those needs, follow up with previous grantees, conduct interviews and site visits and present grant recommendations to the Community Foundation's Board of Trustees. Learn more here.