Their Time: Area Foundation & UP Partnership Team Up To Empower Youth As Philanthropic Decision-Makers

By Gavin Nichols

SAN ANTONIO — In late 2020, Blue Meridian Partners made an $8 million investment in the future of San Antonio, providing funds to UP Partnership to promote youth voice in our area.

Our Tomorrow, a network of organizations under the UP Partnership umbrella, was started to help youth find their voices and build their futures.

“I’m excited to serve … because I can learn better ways to leave an impact on my community and by learning how to make unbiased decisions, into deciding where to provide the most help in my town,” said Mariah Rodriguez, a student at Young Women’s Leaders Academy. “It is tremendously significant to educate myself in how to be a better person and connect with my peers.”

A key component of the work is to provide youth an opportunity to participate in philanthropy through grantmaking. Under the Our Tomorrow network led by UP’s Senior Youth Voice Manager Leroy Adams, 12 students from high schools from various school districts across San Antonio formed the Youth Grants Committee (YGC) with the purpose implementing its own grantmaking process from fielding and analyzing applications to issuing grant awards to selected applicants.

“The students never would have imagined that they would be at the center of funding decisions for their schools and community,” Adams said. “This initiative is their opportunity to demonstrate how intergenerational leadership is an asset to critical decision-making and show how effective those decisions can be when centered around young people.”

The San Antonio Area Foundation partnered with Our Tomorrow to provide training to define at a high level the grant application and process determining the scope of work for the YGC. Then the youth took over.

YGC members began meeting in September to come up with their ground rules, or norms, and fine-tune the grant application and process. The norms they came up with are:

  • Get to know each other and build relationships.
  • Grow understanding of the grant making and philanthropy process.
  • Grow understanding of the wants and needs of San Antonio students.
  • Provide as many grants as possible to peers.
  • Provide constructive feedback to grant applicants.

I represented the Area Foundation’s Community Engagement and Impact (CEI) in meeting with the YGC in early October to discuss philanthropy and help participants connect what they would be doing with philanthropy philosophically.

The group talked about how to evaluate grant applications using an evaluation rubric and they used it to evaluate a sample grant application using their application format. They also discussed how they would provide feedback to grant applicants — both for those selected for grants as well as to those not selected.

The members of the YGC were excited to be able to have decision-making responsibility to make a difference in the community and for their peers. They understand — and were humbled by — the responsibility of being good stewards of Blue Meridian funds. They looked forward to the opportunity and experience.

“I’m excited to be able to make a difference in my community by having a voice in what resources are available to our youth,” noted Tessa Uviedo, a student at Keystone School. “Above all, I would like to be part of a program that has the ability to make a lasting impact on San Antonio.”

I was really impressed by YGC members as deep and critical thinkers. When I see a group of youth taking on a big responsibility like this, it gives me great confidence in the future of our city.

Gavin Nichols is the Senior Program Officer for Youth Success in the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Community Engagement and Impact Department.