How Do You Create a Youth-Led Grantmaking Program to Support Your Community?

Brooklyn Youth Fellows


“I always knew my voice mattered, but the Youth Fellows program is my megaphone.” – Ray, Brooklyn Youth Fellow

A group of young people sit around a table, each with their own unique lived experiences–from incarceration to homelessness to living undocumented–and each filled with immense passion to change the world, block by block, person by person.

At this table, the idea for the Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards was born.

The Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards is a youth-led grantmaking program created in 2016 by young people and sponsored by Brooklyn Community Foundation. The Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards sees young people as central players in supporting youth-centered projects.

It works like this: In partnership with nonprofits and supervising adults, Brooklyn youth can apply for small grants to respond to challenges in their neighborhoods or schools. Their applications are then read and reviewed by us—the Brooklyn Youth Fellows—a cohort of young people who have identified the same challenges and will support selected projects from proposal to implementation.

The Youth Voice Awards is all about elevating the powerful voices of young people like us. They have the solutions we’re looking for and we want to help bring their ideas to life!

Throughout the process of creating the awards, we met to discuss what issue areas felt most important and relevant to Brooklyn youth right now. These became our justice pillars and helped us decide which projects we would fund and support.

Our justice pillars:

  • LGBTQ Justice
  • Economic and Housing Justice
  • Public Health and Reproductive Justice
  • Food and Environmental Justice
  • Immigrant Justice
  • Education Justice
  • Racial and Gender Justice

We believe that these justice pillars intersect and connect with each other, which means that a project may fit in one or more of these categories.

Once applications are submitted, we host reading parties to review all of the powerful projects that were proposed and build a group consensus on what projects to fund. We use the “first to 5 model” to make sure everyone’s voices are really heard in the process.

We’ve created this rubric to measure the readiness and impact the project would have in our communities.

  • 5 = BK CHANGEMAKER – Project clearly and passionately outlines creative solution to a community issue
  • 4 = POWERHOUSE VOICE – Project is well thought-out and would be powerful in community
  • 3 = RISING COMMUNITY ORGANIZER – Project is developing and strongly aligned with BK Fellows
  • 2 = BLOOMING ACTIVIST – Project idea is in-development and addresses an important community issue
  • 1 = REVOLUTIONARY SEED – Project idea is powerful but needs more growing and formation

For our first year, at the end of months of planning and working to make this grantmaking process a reality, we chose six projects to fund and support. You can learn more about them here.

There was an incredible, revolutionary feeling that we all walked away with. We did that! We created a space for other young people to turn their idea into a reality – and we built community in the process.

“I am not sure what other grantmaking programs look like but I don’t think people who look like us get to be a part of it. That the people who would actually participate in the programs, get to choose the programs they want see.” – Marline, Brooklyn Youth Fellow

The first ever Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards was a dynamic and fun process that put young people at the center. We’re now hard at work on the second year of the Awards in 2017–stay tuned!

Before we close out this blog, we want to leave you with one final thought:

If we ever want to truly spark change in our communities, we need to shift how we think about change and who the people leading that change are. For us, it’s young people.

We are ready.

Picture of About Brooklyn Youth Fellows

About Brooklyn Youth Fellows

Brooklyn Community Foundation is committed to supporting the leadership and agency of youth in creating community change. The Brooklyn Youth Fellowship is a youth-led grantmaking program that sees youth as central players in making decisions around supporting youth-centered and youth-led projects.