All posts by Deb Wagner


There are a lot of opportunities to connect young people to change. It can mean providing opportunities for service learning, media-making, political action, and other methods. Youth voice for high school students is a learning tool, a community connection, and a lifelong influence. High school students can conduct broad examinations of social, educational, political, legal, or cultural bias against young people, and develop specific and concrete projects that respond to their observations.

It is often a cultural norm for young people to be habitually disengaged from the decision-making that affects them most. Ionia County Community Foundation Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) with teens from seven high schools (Belding, Ionia, Saranac, Lakewood, Portland, Pewamo Westphalia and Lowell) provides an opportunity for them to use youth voice to make change in their communities. After an examination of local issues, YAC developed projects on teen leadership, teen driver safety and childhood food insecurity.

It is often the “popular” kids chosen as leaders, other kids miss out on the opportunities to rise as a leader. Adolescents who never had the chance to be leaders while growing up might struggle to develop leadership skills later on in life. . Having teens meet outside of school hours, especially at leisure activities, and giving them the chance to be leaders in a group of unfamiliar people allow them to become leaders without worrying about popularity the way they do at school. Teens then learn that leadership is just not a popularity contest. YAC’s Michigan Youth Leadership Training initiative provides that opportunity to local youth in West Michigan.

Car wrecks are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In fact, adolescents are twice as likely as adults are to get into a wreck. The first 18 months after teens get their license are the most dangerous. During that time, new drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into an accident. The reason: inexperience and a tendency to get distracted, studies now show. YAC’s annual teen driver safety events help educate their peers on driving safety.

The impacts of childhood food insecurity:

  • Studies have found that students who face food insecurity do not receive the nutrition that they need to learn.
  • Food insecure children are at a higher risk of health issues leading to increased absenteeism than other children impacting their learning.
  • Food insecurity is also a known psychological & emotional stressor which affects a child’s behavior.

700 children ages 5-14 in 11 schools identified as food insecure through a child referral process are provided an evening meal from the IM Kids 3rd Meal program in Ionia and Montcalm counties. YAC has raised funds, held food drives and volunteered to support IM Kids 3rd Meal’s effort to address childhood hunger.

It is not done without the support of their partners. A key partner has been State Farm and local State Farm agents. State Farm has worked with YAC over the last ten years to support youth efforts to address issues identified by them. State Farm recently provided a $40,000 grant to support YAC’s work. Local State Farm agents provide support by working hand in hand as volunteers and supporting their efforts to raise money and collect food donations with YAC members.

Ionia County Community Foundation YAC wants to thank State Farm and local State Farm agents for the impact that they make on youth in our communities utilizing grants and agent volunteerism. Not only do they make a difference but they inspire and empower young people to get involved in their communities to create a positive, sustainable, and measurable social impact.