group of people talking to each other
Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council members (left) Mohammad Muntakim and Jeremiah Steen (right) talking with Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island on June 2, 2022. (BridgeDetroit photo by Christine Ferretti)

A city-based philanthropic organization wants to pay young Detroiters to serve as leaders who provide input on what it’s like to grow up in the city and the struggles that they have faced. 

The Skillman Foundation, a nonprofit that has spent 60 years providing development and educational opportunities for Detroit children, is recruiting residents between the ages of 12 and 21 to its second President’s Youth Council. 

Natalie Fotias, a spokeswoman for the Skillman Foundation, said the two-year position gives young people the chance to give their thoughts on what life is like for young Detroiters and the needs they have. 

“We get so much insight out of them helping us understand really what young people are valuing what they’re going through, what they want from a funding organization and what kinds of programs they think that we should be paying attention to,” Fotias told BridgeDetroit. 

The President’s Youth Council has directed grant money to organizations including Detroit Heals Detroit, a nonprofit that works to help youth who have experienced pain and trauma and turn it into something positive for the community. 

The youth council has also prioritized grant dollars for Warrior Women Against Poverty, which helps women and children gain resources, education and mentorship opportunities, and Bringing Hope Back Home, an organization that aims to provide a smoother transition to college for high school students in Detroit.

Fotias said the current cohort of young Detroiters has provided $300,000 in grants to different organizations since they came onboard in 2020. 

“So (the council members) really have pushed our thinking in not just who are the organizations and what are the causes we donate to, but what are the different ways we could look at our own grant making,” she said.

The youth council members receive a base stipend of $1,000 for the two years and get an additional $500 for every meeting that is held, Fotias said. 

“On top of that, there’s opportunities for them to get further involved,” she said. “So that looks like things like writing an op-ed or writing a blog, or participating in a public event or panel conversation.”

Youth council member Jeremiah Steen, in a Skillman Foundation Instagram post, urged young people “with a perspective on what Detroit and the world should look like” to apply. 

(from left) Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council members Mohammad Muntakim, Logan Newman, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, youth council member Jeremiah Steen and Angelique Power, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island on June 2, 2022. (BridgeDetroit photo by Orlando Bailey)

“This opportunity will show you just how powerful and important the amplification of youth voice is,” Steen added. 

The council and its insights help the Skillman Foundation figure out where to invest grant money to have the biggest possible impact on Detroit’s children. The Foundation says that the council can help young people get their voices heard and build networks that stretch beyond Skillman. 

The existing youth council has 13 members and meets roughly once a month, according to Skillman. The council also gives young Detroiters the chance to take part in public events that are often exclusively occupied by adults, such as the Mackinac Policy Conference, where three of the Youth Council members this year became the youngest speakers ever to attend the event, Skillman officials noted. 
Youths can either apply themselves or be nominated by someone of any age by Sept. 16. Fotias said the current cohort will graduate in December. The next group selected, she said, will be notified in November.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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