Youth in Philanthropy: the beauty of perspective

Youth In Philanthropy

Clara Kilburn is the outgoing youth trustee on Grand Rapids Community Foundation's Board of Trustees. She also served as a member of the Youth Grant Committee for three years. Clara offers a perspective on the lessons she has learned through this volunteerism and casts a vision for the future of Grand Rapids and youth engagement. 

What is something you’ve learned?

I’ve learned so much about the importance and beauty of perspective from Youth Grant Committee and being a Youth Trustee. On YGC is made up of students of various socioeconomic backgrounds, schools, talents, races, and so much more. We had some conflicts, of course, but have learned greatly from one another. I, for example, when entering YGC thought of myself as an advocate for people with disabilities, particularly growing up with a stuttering speech disorder, and a family with dyslexia and various chronic illnesses. This passion and perspective is still a part of me, but I’ve learned about what motivates others, such as equitable access to participate in physical activities, college programs, and have become more passionate about those issues myself.

Why is youth involvement in the community and youth voice in decision making important?

Adults, with their greater years of experiences, may have a more holistic outlook on the world. This is fantastic in many ways, but I’ve noticed that youth tend to bring more of an idealistic view of the world. We’ve experienced much less of the messy side of philanthropy and non-profit work, so those challenges and politics don’t affect our views. As many youth on YGC have spent their entire lives in Grand Rapids, we have a more idealistic view of how to change Grand Rapids. I believe it’s this idealism and unique perspective, growing up in the early 2000s, that makes us most special. Youth voice in decision-making is growing ever more important as our world continues to change.

During your three years in YGC what did you learn about Grand Rapids that makes you proud of your city?

Grand Rapids, with all its many areas in need of improvement, has lots of energy to create change. I think GR has a degree of humbleness --- we are a small city in the west side of a midwestern state --- which I think makes it a great landscape to create great social change without being the front and center of a political headline.

What changes do you hope to see in the future?

The biggest thing for me is for Grand Rapids to be able to use its strengths as it is and not as a weakness, namely racial diversity. Grand Rapids is unfortunately a very racially segregated city. After spending a summer in Houston, I realized how much Grand Rapids has room to grow. Grand Rapids is very racially diverse (a strength), and I hope to see Grand Rapids become more aware of this strength in the future.

What area of philanthropy did you become most passionate about while volunteering for YGC? 

Equity in education. I have been amazed by the many organizations helping youth continue their education, from SLD Read tutoring for school age children, to high school programs for teens. I attended elementary school in EGRPS, middle school in GRPS, and high school at West Michigan Aviation Academy. These experiences, as well as getting to know friends from various backgrounds, helped highlight inequities in education in Grand Rapids. I had many passions coming into YGC, but equity in education was definitely one that skyrocketed for me once I entered high school and joined YGC.

Favorite grant partnership that YGC has granted in the past 3 years?

YGC has granted Children’s Healing Center a couple of grants the past 2 years. Children’s Healing Center provides a space for children with compromised immune systems to play and learn in a safe, clean environment. It’s one of the few such spaces in the country, and I was inspired by their work and their exploration of new territory of providing this service. When we performed a site visit last October, I was even more impressed. As a sister of someone with chronic illnesses, I was very touched by their work, and even prouder that this organization was in Grand Rapids.

What experience you had as a member of the YGC have the biggest impact on your career aspirations?

YGC really helped show me whether it’s in a big or small organization, one can make a big difference in the community. Our grantees have been new start-ups, or nationally known organizations. All our grantees are making positive change. From this, I’ve been able to see that change can be in many different forms or scales, and I’m glad that YGC helped show me that. Now, I’ll wait and see where life takes me, and how I will create change.