Harvest Youth Board reflects on national presentation

Harvest Youth Board reflects on national presentation
Former and current members of the Harvest Youth Board are pictured during this year’s Grantmakers for Education annual conference on Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C.

October 25, 2017

Harvest Youth Board reflects on national presentation

The voice of youth is important to the future of a community. For that reason, empowering young people now will make them better leaders in the future.

That was the message the Harvest Youth Board took to the Grantmakers for Education annual conference Oct. 16-18 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.

“Our goal was to get more boards to realize it’s not really fair to make decisions for youth” without getting input from young people on the issues and giving them leadership roles in their communities, said Karli Foster, chairperson of the Harvest Youth Board, which is in its third year.

The group said the audience was receptive to their message, and some people may try to duplicate their efforts.

Kendall Cope, vice chairperson of the Youth Board, said he was “amazed that we’ve done so well in three years that we progressed enough to talk at a national level. I think organizations across the country will contact us and keep up with what we’re doing. I hope we influenced them to empower youth in their community.”

People were drawn to the Youth Board presentation because they were the only young people speaking at the conference, he said.

“Our (youths’) opinions are not really there because we’re not represented,” he said. As a result of their session, “Maybe more will do what the Harvest Foundation did” and create youth boards, Cope added.

Cameron Brummitt, who was vice chairperson of the Youth Board in its inaugural year, agreed.

“The audience seemed to be engaged in our story and receptive to our ideas. We had several members of the audience talk to us afterward who were planning to take our ideas back to their community in hopes of replicating our success,” he stated.

Former board member Phillip Williams, who served as moderator for the presentation on Oct. 16, said the presentation gave the board’s work credibility.

It was “almost like a legitimizing experience for the whole board in general. It was eye-opening. It expanded my thought of the board,” that it could attract interest on a national level, he said.

“We never would have imagined that during our third operating year on the board we already would be at such an advanced step, said Paulina Vazquez, chairperson of the board in its first year and a panelist in the Oct. 16 presentation.

Inaugural Youth Board member Kristel Hairston also said the presentation gave the Youth Board national exposure.

“The Youth Board is an organization without limits … with the power of youth. It can do anything." - Karli Foster, Chairperson

“We got to let people know all we’ve done. It’s different to tell people in our community how we’re helping people, but when people from other places” hear their story, they want to start their own youth boards, she said. Hairston noted that some people in the audience seemed interested in doing that, and some asked for their business cards.

The experience “triggered something they never thought of before,” she said of people who had not considered empowering the youth in their community before hearing the Youth Board’s story.

Also taking part in the presentation was Max Pinkston, immediate past chairperson. Youth Board members Julian Vaughn, Devin Page, Sophia Esdaile and Sean Arroyo also attended the conference and assisted the presenters.

The topic of the conference was Equity in Education: Empowering Community Voice, and the theme of the Youth Board’s 45-minute presentation was Creating Tomorrow’s Philanthropic Leaders by Empowering the Youth of Today.

The local panel asked the audience two questions:

  • What percentage of the youth in your community can identify the purpose and mission of your foundation? A woman in the audience answered 1 percent.
  • How are you empowering youth in your community? One respondent said her foundation held youth activities and sought ideas from youth on how to make the community stronger. Another said her group did a lot of research, but it lacked a voice from young people.

Empowerment of youth is a common theme of the Youth Board and its message to the conference. Decisions are made by the board members, not its advisers, and they have resulted in the board awarding grants for initiatives as diverse as playground equipment for the Smith River Sports Complex and tennis programs in area schools.

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner

But it was the Thanksgiving Eve community dinner that the board sponsored last November that especially caught the attention of the audience, several board members said. The Youth Board spent a year planning the free dinner that was provided to 1,704 area residents.

A murmur and applause swept through the Youth Board’s audience when that number was mentioned, and photos of the event were shown during the Power Point presentation.

“Especially after we introduced them to the (Thanksgiving Eve) dinner, they were impressed. … It was more the influence that we made, and we were showing them that youth could make a difference,” Vaughn said.

The experience taught him that “if we take time as young people to express how we feel to the older generation, some of them actually will listen,” he said.

“When they all saw the 1,700 meals were served, they all clapped. They were astonished we pulled it off,” Williams said.

“I don’t think they expected us to make such a big impact,” Hairston added.

This year’s dinner will be held Nov. 22 at Martinsville High School.

Also this year, the board plans to focus on awarding grants that will have larger impacts on the community and youth.

Among the lessons its members have learned in three years are planning, partnerships and collaborations, budgeting and organization, they said.

The board’s presentation concluded with a discussion of challenges it faces now. Foster said they include time management and commitment of board members, which is more than most school groups because the board makes its own decisions; mentoring by board members who graduated off the board, rather than Harvest and Kiwanis members; work to make more impactful grants; upholding Youth Board standards and confidentiality; defining the role of parents, which is to support their children but not handle their responsibilities; and board transition, in which senior board members recommend the new leadership for the following year.

“The Youth Board is an organization without limits … with the power of youth. It can do anything. With our creative minds, it’s wide open. We aspire to make a lasting impact on all youth within Martinsville-Henry County. We are the next generation of leaders in this community,” Foster said.

The youth have gained more appreciation for their community through the youth board, and as a result they now are more likely to want to return to the area after they complete their education or training, she said.

The presentation was well-received, according to Foster and board advisers DeWitt House, senior program advisor with The Harvest Foundation, and India Brown, grants administrator at the foundation. Gracie Agnew, former Harvest board member and an adviser to the Youth Board, also attended the presentation.

“I think they loved it,” Foster said.

One audience member asked if the Youth Board does consulting work, and two others wrote about the presentation on Twitter. Another woman said she was on the board of a pregnancy counseling group and she bemoaned that no youth were involved with it.

Brown sat in the audience during the presentation and said people were amazed at the impact the youth have through the board. House added that the chairman of Grantmakers for Education, who also worked for Chan Zuckerberg, attended the session and was very complimentary of it.

Chan Zuckerberg is an initiative of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. It is a philanthropic organization that brings together world-class engineering, grant-making, impact investing, policy and advocacy work, according to its website.

Foster said taking part in the conference taught her the importance of networking.

“I really enjoyed talking to people from other organizations and states. It was neat to see what they were doing and how our presentation could impact how their organization operates,” she said.

Vazquez said it was “an incredible experience” for all involved to share the Youth Board’s experiences with people from throughout the country.

“We heard about some people who had a similar initiative, but they used our story as motivation to take theirs a step further,” she said.

She added that it was “surreal” to be at the presentation.

Vazquez said the experience taught her to “never limit yourself, no matter how small or insignificant you may think your contributions are.”

“No opportunity is too small, and I guess we should never limit ourselves to just Martinsville or just the state because there is always a way to go outside of that bubble,” she added.

Vaughn handled technical issues during the presentation, including having it air live on Facebook and filming it. He said people in the audience wrote down information throughout the session.

“They had a ton of questions, but we ran out of time” at the end, he added.

Committment to Harvest Youth Board

Several former Youth Board members’ involvement in the presentation and other board business and activities shows their commitment to the board, according to House and the board members.

Although she has been off the board for two years and now attends the University of Virginia, Vazquez remains involved with the Youth Board. She attends its meetings when she is home, helped interview prospective members last summer and took part in the conference.

“It shows our commitment,” she said, explaining that the Youth Board is a priority for her and many of the other former members. “It’s something different, unique, and it gave us a voice that we didn’t think we had before. There is an emotional connection because we worked hard to get it up and running. … We are staying involved and trying to help as much as we can to make sure it continues to grow.”

Brummitt agreed.

“I hope our story will inspire foundations all over the country to create their own youth boards. I think the Harvest Youth Board showed the audience, as well as people in our own community, that the youth are capable of a lot more than we are sometimes asked of. We sincerely care about our community, and I am confident that this was on display at the conference,” he stated. “This experience taught me how critical it is to work together as a team. Having retired and current members of the youth board to come together to make this thing happen was truly inspiring. I hope we are presented with more opportunities in the future to tell our story.”

Hairston plans to stay involved in the Youth Board, even though she now attends Radford University.

“I feel like we’ve made a big impact so far, but it’s probably going to get better. Being part of it opened me up, opened my mind up, to issues I never thought about before,” she said. “I’ve been in other groups (and organizations), but it’s never been like this.”

Williams, who attends George Mason University, also plans to stay involved with the Youth Board.

“I was a founding member. We put a lot of work into it. I want to make sure it’s continued, and I want to see it continue. I want to be 30, 40 (years of age) and say, ‘the Youth Board still is a thing.’ My picture will be hanging somewhere” with those of other former members, he said. 


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