Innovate for Good 2016 Puts Youth Initiatives at Forefront

The second annual Rose Community Foundation program granted $200,000 to 10 innovative ideas. Youth activists are involved with all of the winners.
When the team at Rose Community Foundation pondered the next big question for Innovate for Good 2016, community involvement remained in the spotlight, but the focus narrowed. Instead of asking everyone, they veered towards the youth and their adult allies, inquiring, "What idea could you bring to life to empower youth to make the community better?" The targeted query shrunk the applicant pool from 400 to 65 -- with no expense of innovation. 

On Sept. 14, judges awarded Innovate for Good grants to four youth initiatives and six youth-adult partnerships. The latter received $30,000 each, while the four adolescent awardees were presented with $5,000. All 10 winners will receive year-long training, coaching and skill-building from the Youth Leadership Institute, a nationally recognized foundation that helps youth and adults create positive social change. 

The 2015 winners continue to use their grants to grow their programs, and -- for Fresh Food Connect -- grow their gardens. The Groundwork Denver project began farming on two elementary school lots, sending their first 300-pound harvest into Denver Public Schools free and reduced lunch program. They expect 10,000 pounds of food to circulate into the school system. Workshop on Wheels continues to help single moms in their volunteer-led home repair unit, while the Stompin' Ground Games bring historical lessons to new neighborhoods each month. 

The new crop

In the 2016 round, Jennifer Moe, director of marketing and public relations at Rose Community Foundation, was again impressed with the submissions. "We felt so inspired by how broad and different the ideas were, but what really reached us was how generational these innovators were," she says. "This wasn't just youth helping the youth, it was youth helping seniors, or youth helping groups across many cultures."
All of the winners pose onstage at the Cable Center.
These selfless, generation-leaping proposals came in many forms, from Juniors for Seniors, a program where teen volunteers are paired with nursing home residents to provide one-on-one relationships and increased quality of life, to teen-recorded Stories Worth Saving from elderly interviewees at assisted-living homes.

"Young people are stepping up with passion and commitment, looking for an opportunity to make a difference. It struck me that none of the awardees focused on technology; they were all projects that promoted personal connections to address serious issues," says Sue Hermann, vice president and director of communications at CoBiz Financial, Rose Community Foundation's partner in Innovate for Good 2016. "We were very impressed by the way some groups focused on providing a hyper-local, neighborhood-based solution. All the ideas were truly remarkable because not only were they thought provoking and deliberate, but they were intertwined with compassion and kindness to make a real change in their communities." 

Prompting a dialogue

Developing youth leaders and cultivating advocates for justice was a major theme for the program's second year. The Community Interpreters Project prompts and trains refugee and immigrant teens to translate for their families and communities. CEC matches upper and underclassmen as mentors, while Thunderbolts Building Bridges improves youth and law enforcement relationships via workshops. Increased food access and awareness is fostered by the Neighborhood Harvest farming program, while the Youth-Led Bicycle Repair Workshop encourages program leadership and active lives. 

One winner, Community Cypher, tackles a specific social issue, using the arts as a way to focus on the school-to-prison pipeline. Artists and youth converge and develop music and drama to open discourse on this pervasive problem. 
Community Cypher plans to use the arts to examine the school-to-prison pipeline.
"Each presentation is interactive, engaging the audience throughout and then prompting a dialogue," says Community Cypher's Rachael Sharp, founder of Creative Strategies for Change. "Maybe it's a change in policy, maybe it's a change in communication, but each performance is personal and tells a different story from a different perspective. This is more than awareness, it is about creating a space for discussion, for a change. It's easy for people to say 'Oh, we've tried that or this,' but they haven't tried it from a youth's perspective."

While many of the ideas are still, well, simply ideas, these grants will help put them into practice.

Innovate for Good 2016 winners

Youth Grantees:Youth-Adult Partnership Grantees:This story was underwritten by Rose Community Foundation.

Read more articles by Danielle Ennis.

Danielle Ennis, an East Coast transplant, enjoys writing about sports and great cheeseburgers. She teaches kids' ski lessons and is pursuing a license in classroom teaching. 
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