All posts by Carolyn Strzalka

YAC participates in Global Youth Service Day

Thousands of Michigan youth volunteered to make an impact in their communities as part of Global Youth Service Day on April 21-23.


The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council hosted a project that addressed the issue of childhood hunger by packing meals for almost 600 children at IM Kids 3rd Meal on
April 21st. The project will provide ready to eat, well-balanced evening meals to food insecure children in Montcalm and Ionia counties. Over 70 students and AmeriCorps volunteers will be participating in the project.20170421_095610

IM Kids 3rd Meal is committed to ending childhood hunger by providing nutritious 3rd meals to 565 food insecure children at six schools in Ionia and Montcalm counties. Each school day, volunteers prepare and package the meals which are then distributed to the schools and children at the end of the day. Interested volunteers can get involved with this program by visiting

Portland High School Senior Jack Lufkin and Lowell High School Senior Shannon Hoekstra are co-chairs for Ionia YAC. They both said that getting out in the community to do these projects is the best part of being a YAC member.

“It’s just a way for us to give back to this community, because we’re always in our meetings and planning things, but now we get to work hands-on and help all these kids,” Hoekstra said.

Lufkin said getting out in the community and doing these projects also spread awareness on what YAC is and what the group does.

“We are a student-run program that does projects and has certain requirements or goals that we want to achieve. We also do the statewide driver’s safety conference in October and that’s one of the things that we really want to focus on and also things like achievement, food insecurity,” Lufkin said.20170421_092859

The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council has received a mini-grant from the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) and Youth Service America (YSA) to aid youth across the state to address critical issues in their communities, including education, economic opportunity, health, clean energy and environmental stewardship, hunger, homelessness, supporting veterans and military families, and public safety.

MCSC and Youth Service America, distributed $7,000 in mini-grant funds for 23 Global Youth Service Day projects that will engage 2,000 youth volunteers in close to 10,000 volunteer hours.

Established in 1988 by Youth Service America, Global Youth Service Day is the largest service event in the world and is now celebrated in more than 100 countries.

“Engaging youth in volunteerism is an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved,” said Ginna Holmes, MCSC executive director. “We are proud to support these projects and assist youth in making a difference in their communities.”


The Michigan Community Service Commission utilizes service as a strategy to address the state’s most pressing issues and empowers volunteers to strengthen communities. In 2016-2017, the MCSC is granting more than $7 million in federal funds to local communities for volunteer programs and activities, including 27 AmeriCorps programs. The Governor’s Service Awards, Volunteer Michigan and Mentor Michigan are also premier programs of the MCSC. The MCSC is housed in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. For more information visit


Ionia County Youth Advisory Council recognized for the Strive 2 Arrive Alive initiative to help teens

The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council was honored during the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission (GTSAC) annual awards presentation Wednesday at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing  for Strive 2 Arrive Alive (S2AA), its teen driver safety initiative. 20170322_130900

The commission honors organizations, programs, and individuals for outstanding contributions to traffic safety. the awards ceremony is part of the 22nd Annual Michigan Traffic Safety Summit. Six Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement awards, a student award and three long-term awards were presented.

YAC students plan, organize, and implement the annual S2AA Teen Driver Safety Conference for high schoolers from across the state. The group contacts sponsors, searches for vendors, books guest speakers, and designs marketing materials.

The sixth annual conference drew nearly 600 students from 13 school districts. The 2016 event included six breakout sessions where students could hear speakers share their impactful stories about distracted driving. Participants also had the opportunity to try out a distracted driver simulator, meet first responders, and try out impairment googles.

Through hard work and dedication, YAC members have created and maintained a project that has taught thousands of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members about the importance of teen driver safety.

The GTSAC was formed in 2002 to serve as the state’s forum for identifying key traffic safety challenges and developing and implementing plans to address those issues. The GTSAC includes representatives from the departments of: Education, Health and Human Services, State, State Police, and transportation, as well as Office of the Governor, Office of Services to the Aging, and Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. There are also three representative from local government appointed by the governor.

February YAC Meeting

The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council had the privilege of hosting two speakers at their February 16th, 2017 meeting.

Norma Sower from Spectrum Health Safe Drive gave an interactive presentation about the dangers of marijuana. YACers got to try out the Marijuana Fatal vision goggles and participate in a number of activities that show how marijuana affects your perception and why it is dangerous to use marijuana then drive.16722415_1099676130141612_3580873325207881672_o

Some facts the YACers learned about marijuana:

  • chronic marijuana use (chronic marijuana use is considered to be once a month)  while your brain is still developing can lead to an 8 point decrease in IQ as an adult
  • 1 in 6 teens who use marijuana become addicted
  • Heavy marijuana use leads to lower satisfaction in life
  • Marijuana users have lower grades, are less likely to graduate, and less likely to enroll in college than non-marijuana users
  • Marijuana users are more likely to be unemployed

Want to try out the Marijuana Fatal Vision goggles yourself? Norma Sower will be at the 7th Annual Strive 2 Arrive Alive in October, be sure to register to be there!

The YACers also had the opportunity to hear from Anthony Ianni, a former MSU Basketball Player who travels around the country to share his anti-bullying message. His motivation speech was a GREAT kick-off to No Worries Week, where the YACers will be spreading messages of kindness to their schools and communities. His past experiences of letting his actions speak for themselves is a great example to follow and to live by. 16716252_1099676080141617_1169344272262750712_o

Anthony Ianni had a great message: The Harder You Work, The More You Earn. The YACers hope to take this message and incorporate it into their own lives.

YAC Gives Back!

The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council partnered with IM Kids 3rd Meal to complete three service projects that focus on helping children in our community at their January 25th, 2017 meeting.

YAC completed “Project Warm Hearts” in honor of Martin Luther King Day of Service. 20170125_102206Martin Luther King Day of Service helps to make the national holiday a “day on, not a day off” by uniting volunteers to reaffirm King’s teachings of nonviolence and social justice.  “Project Warm Hearts” was funded by the Michigan Community Service Commission and was a collaboration between IM Kids 3rd Meal, Green Acres of Ionia, and YAC. For this project, YAC worked with the residents of Green Acres to make no sew fleece scarves for children who are food insecure in Ionia and Montcalm counties. After the scarves were made, IM Kids 3rd Meal volunteers packaged them and distributed them with the meals. 370 students received scarves.

20170125_093647YAC and IM Kids 3rd Meal partnered on another project, thanks to the support of local dentists. YAC packaged donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and coupons to be distributed with IM Kids 3rd Meals for the American Dental Association’s National Children’s Dental Health Month. Donations from Dr. Daniel Tift in Belding, Dr. Kathleen Ellsworth in Saranac, Dr. James Klein in Ionia, Dr. Crist Johnson in Ionia, Boucher Family Dentistry in Ionia, Muscott & Muscott Dental Health in Ionia, and Dr. Robert Payne in Ionia helped YAC create over 500 dental hygiene kits for kids in need in Ionia and Montcalm counties. These kits will be distributed in February.

YAC also created “Capes for Kids!”. these are superhero capes for kids who live in shelters across the state of Michigan. The idea behind the capes is that the capes give children facing a difficult time in their life something to take comfort in and give them confidence. Our hope is that these capes give kids the confidence they need to be their own superhero! Check out the capes YACers made!

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If you want to get more involved with IM Kids 3rd Meal, check out

Summer Leadership Training Camp

Registration for the Michigan Youth Leadership Training (MIYLT) is now open! MIYLT is a week-long leadership training camp designed for high school students who want to learn how to become a leader and make an impact on their community. The camp is designed around interactive simulations, trainings, cultural diversity, social justice, and service. Camp began in 2011 after Youth Advisory Council students decided that they wanted to host a camp to help their peers become leaders. 13987669_1203941619662486_5347529685656688310_o

Throughout the week, campers build their leadership skills by discovering the wilderness, experiencing service, developing perspectives, learning about and experiencing different cultures, exploring issues of community involvement, poverty, race relations, ethics, and learning strategies for addressing social issues. Campers get to canoe, swim, climb a rock wall, interact with their peers, and experience life changing simulations that will help students become more aware of the world around them.

All high school students, those entering 9th grade to 12th grade, are welcome to register for this week long summer camp at The cost of the camp is only $20, thanks to our partnership with State Farm. MIYLT 2017 will be held June 25thto June 30th13524578_1166058323450816_7060588525149836258_n

MIYLT is a life-changing week of adventure, self-discovery, friendship, cultural exchange, leadership-building, and service. But don’t just take our word for it! Check out what previous campers have to say about MIYLT

“I didn’t learn how to become a leader. I learned how to be myself and it just so happens that I am a leader.” – 2016 MIYLT Camper

“Camp was powerful, it really made you think about life and human nature.” – 2016 MIYLT Camper

“It helped me define myself as a leader in the making and has improved my skills so so much. I have come a long way”- 2016 MIYLT Camper

“Leadership is when you challenge yourself to be a better your everyday. Serving others while still working on yourself. A great leader is somebody who realizes they have to ‘be the change [they] wish to see.” – 2013 MIYLT Camper

“MIYLT challenged campers to think about how their actions affect others. They begin to learn how they can make positive impacts on others in their community. The best part of MIYLT is seeing the growth students experience in a week.” – 2016 MIYLT Staffer

November YAC Meeting

The Youth Advisory Council met on November 10th, 2016 and created Holiday Cards for Troops which will be distributed to active members of our Armed Forces through the organization Blue Star Mothers of America!20161110_092245

The Blue Star Mothers is a group of mothers, grandmothers, and female legal guardians who have children serving in the military, guard or reserves, or children who are veterans. This group of motivated women support each other and their children and promote patriotism. Each year, the Blue Star Mothers make Holiday Care Packages for active service members.

At the November meeting, YACers learned about Ronald McDonald House, a charity that helps families who have children in the hospitals. They also had a guest speaker from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. This speaker gave an orientation to the students about what it means to be a member of the Youth Advisory Council and a grant maker.

Next month, the students will be participating in their annual project “RACK’ed by YAC”. RACK stands for Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. The students will be visiting the residents at Green Acres in Ionia and distributing stockings and candy canes!

6th Annual Strive 2 Arrive Alive Conference

The 6th Annual Strive 2 Arrive Alive Teen Driver Safety Conference was held on October 26, 2016. This statewide educational event, hosted by the Ionia County Youth Advisory Council, welcomed thirteen high schools to Celebration! Cinema Grand Rapids North & IMAX to learn about the dangers of distracted driving. Over 590 students spent the day listening to heartfelt and impactful speakers, learning from informative vendors, and trying out distracted driving simulators. 20161026_113252

One third of attending students shared that they do not yet have their driver’s license but are planning to in the near future.  “It is really different from being a passenger to becoming a driver, because you are distracted by a different amount of things, and we want to bring awareness to those, so that we can be careful out on the roads,” shared Youth Advisory Council Co-chair Shannon Hoekstra on why members of the Youth Advisory Council make their campaign against distracted driving a priority.

20161026_113706By reaching out to students, the Youth Advisory Council hopes to reach young drivers and their families. When asked if she would share the information she learned today with others, a student attending the conference said “[Yes] I learned a lot of new information that I can share with my small community. Many others can benefit from this information”.

According to a recent study conducted by State Farm, over eighty percent of teens admitted to driving while distracted. One attending student shared, “this conference helped give me some perspective on my actions. Think before you act and don’t let yourself get distracted”. The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council encourages their peers to “Stop the texts, Stop the Wrecks”.

A special thank you to all of our sponsors for making this conference possible; State Farm, Northridge Center Store AT&T, Ford Driving Skills for Life, Portland Products, and DeNooyer Chevrolet.

Check out the conference on WOTV 4! Teens “Strive to Arrive Alive” with student led conference

YAC was on Wood TV 8 DayBreak!

Students from the Youth Advisory Council had the opportunity to promote the 6th Annual Strive 2 Arrive Alive Teen Driver Safety Conference on WoodTV 8’s Daybreak Show on October 5th, 2016 in Grand Rapids! Students woke up at 4 am to travel to Grand Rapids to promote the conference at 5:30 am to 7 am. Great job, YACers!