Youth Can Make a Difference Now

Youth United Way
Youth United Way

Editor’s note: Guest blog written by members of Youth United Way to mark International Youth Day, Aug. 12.

Being a teenager can make you feel powerless.

Your eyes have been opened to the ways of the world – good and bad – and yet you feel like you have to wait until you’ve become an adult to actually make a difference. Youth are constantly told to “think about your future,” and that everything you do in the present must be in preparation for adulthood.

Youth United Way changed that for me.

Being a part of Youth United Way has made me realize that we, as teenagers, aren’t “the future,” but rather, the present. We have the ability to actively improve the world around us.

Unlike the experience of too many in high school, an important aspect of Youth United Way is that we aren’t told what to do, but are given choices and suggestions and help along the way as we work together.

Every year, the high school-aged members of Youth United Way review dozens of grants from local organizations. Since the beginning of the program in 1989, they have granted over $1 million to nonprofit organizations who serve the youth of Kalamazoo County. It’s so amazing to see all the organizations working for good in our community, and also to know that we’ve played a part in keeping them going. This helped me realize that global problems like disease, violence, hunger and lack of education also affect my local community – and that I have the power to begin to solve them.

Members of Youth United Way strive to be productive as we affect youth in our community. We learn how to use compromise and consensus as we make difficult decisions. We talk about issues of importance and advocate for change. We develop and carry out volunteer projects that are fun and make a difference in small and large ways. We try to make every day a celebration of our youth and our futures.

On International Youth Day, we hope to inspire all youth to empower themselves and their own communities. We want youth to believe in themselves – to see ways to build the skills needed to become global citizens. International Youth Day is dedicated to celebrating youth people’s contributions to conflict prevention and information as well as inclusion, social justice and sustainable peace. Youth United Way embodies the idea of International Youth Day – to become aware of and claim the power each of us has in shaping the future.

Youth United Way is a partnership program of Kalamazoo Community Foundation and United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. High school-aged youth of Kalamazoo County learn about community needs, assets and challenges – and make a difference through their energy, opinions and actions. For more information about how to join, please contact mboughton@uwbckr.org.