Youth empowerment is the process in which young people are given the tools to make decisions and create change—not only impacting their own lives but the lives of their peers as well. Often times we hear from youth that their voices are not being heard. Members of our Youth Advisory Council (YAC) recognize this and have started on a path to create avenues and spaces where youth can be heard. As they look to the impact of their grantmaking and programming, they want to ensure that whatever they are doing is in some way, shape, or form empowering youth.

Most recently, our YAC developed and launched the Spark Tank Initiative—their first step in providing opportunities and spaces to empower youth in our community.

 “The Spark Tank initiative was the first project we have designed to help empower youth in our community. The local students were thrilled to have their voices heard on issues they saw in their schools. Mixing this with the positive feedback from the teacher, we have strengthened our resolve to continue providing the youth with a chance to be heard in our community.” – Charlie Parker

Throughout the submission process and while touring the schools to hear student presentations, we often heard how empowering it was to give students a voice. We heard teachers say, “remember when you said adults don’t listen to you, they’re listening now,” emphasizing the need to provide safe environments for our students discuss and reflect what they could do to inspire others to make their school a better place.

“The Spark Tank program challenged students to take a look at how to make their school a better place. While it started with a simple question, we could quickly see that it became much more than that to the students. The process itself inspired the students to take action and look at things critically.

The way students took on the challenge truly exceeded YAC’s expectations. It was profound to see the initiative have such a positive impact. After seeing the presentations, you could tell it really was about so much more than improving the school itself. This also inspired youth and created a better community among the students themselves. I am so excited to see Spark Tank grow next year and into the future. This year just showed the immense promise it holds.” – Chloe Weigel

For a list of the recipients and projects, visit:

Read the Grand Haven Tribune’s coverage.