Giving and Growing for the Greater Good

MAF’s Youth Grant Initiative inspires new opportunities  

May Day has traditionally celebrated the arrival of a warmer, more colorful season with dancing, singing, and sweet treats. Its roots lay in honoring the Roman goddess of flowers, and bloom-bedecked crowns still grace the heads of May Queens across Europe and around the world.

It seems symbolic, then, that the Multnomah Athletic Foundation begins accepting applications for its Youth Grant Initiative (YGI) on Sunday, May 1. Speaking with past and current participants, it’s clear that the program leads to abundant personal growth both in the youth it benefits and the tweens who administer the awarding of the funds. As the foundation’s generosity makes it possible for more kids to find their place in the sun, learning about leadership, communication, and changing the world helps the grant-givers to bloom into the best versions of themselves.

Each year, YGI teaches curious and passionate seventh and eighth graders about community involvement through hands-on philanthropy. Program participants create positive change by awarding $5,000 in grants to area nonprofits. The inaugural cohort made its first gift in 2017, and one of its members, Simone Guite, speaks eloquently about the ways in which the experience changed her life trajectory.

“The impact that I was able to make by granting money through MAF made a really big difference in my community, and I don’t assume I’ll have another similar opportunity again,” Guite says. “The leadership and communications skills that I gained were very helpful. A lot of YGI is exploring different philanthropic ideas and some of the principles behind them. Learning how to talk in front of a room full of people whom you don’t know at first, including both fellow students and adults, was incredibly eye-opening.”

Guite has her sights set on someday becoming a federal congresswoman, a road which she imagines running through law school. Without her participation in MAF’s program, she’s not sure this passion for helping others in a public form would have manifested itself.

“When I joined YGI, I started improving my communication skills, which led me to breaking out of my shell and joining Speech & Debate at Cleveland High School. That led to the Constitution Team, where I really got into law and government, and I realized that was the best place for me to put my argumentative skills into action,” she says.

“I used to be a very introverted person. I don’t know what path I would be on right now if I hadn’t opened up with YGI and become comfortable with public speaking. Sitting down with a group of my peers, stating my opinions, and sharing different views on the organizations we were considering sometimes put me in an uncomfortable place, but it all worked out in the end.”

Guite’s cohort awarded its grant to Girls Inc., a nonprofit that offers research-based programming to youth ages 6-18. The organization’s focus is on holistic development, supporting, mentoring, and guiding participants in an affirming, pro-girl environment.

“When you think about giving back, there are so many routes that you can go, but YGI broke it down simply. Oftentimes taking that first step can be very overwhelming, especially as a young kid. You think, ‘I don’t have money, so I can’t do anything.’ That’s not true. Time and talent are both treasures that can be given to those in need,” Guite explains. “[YGI] also opened my eyes to a problem that a lot of people might not be aware of — youth not having access to sports. Coming from a fairly privileged position, I always had access to sports, but for a lot of kids, that’s not the case. That can be due to monetary concerns or disability; sports aren’t always accommodating of that. Kids being able to participate in sports can have a really big impact on the world because it’s good for both mental and physical health, as well as building teamwork skills.”

One of this year’s YGI cohort members, Brady Vinh, concurs. An eighth-grader at All Saints School, Vinh also swims for MAC, and says that competing in the pool also pushes him to step up his game in the classroom.

Vinh first learned about the YGI during a trip to the club with his dad, and he says the decision to get involved was a no-brainer. “When I heard about giving to others through nonprofits, I was like, ‘Yeah! I really want to do this.’ We are helping people who don’t have as much money to play sports, and as an athlete, that’s definitely something I care about.”

Vinh’s YGI cohort gave to Adelante Mujeres, an organization that empowers young Latinas to lead through providing athletic opportunities and more, as well as Hoop.Camp, which invites all ages of people with special needs to play basketball in a developmental setting.

Hoop.Camp also invited Vinh and his dad, John, to join them at a Portland State University basketball game, where they met the nonprofit’s executive director and watched the athletes have a blast running up and down the court at halftime.

“It was awesome,” Brady says. “They looked like they were having so much fun. I think they enjoyed it more than any other kids or adults I’ve ever seen enjoy basketball.”

Like Guite, Vinh also says YGI helped him grow as a person, teaching valuable skills that have positively impacted his approach to interacting with others. “It helped me be more patient and taught me that people have different styles of communication. For example, some people are loud, while I like to listen to others before I give my opinion. It also gave me confidence. At school, no one usually wants to go first when you’re speaking in front of the whole class. A while back, I actually volunteered to go first when we were reading our essays, which I would not have ever done if it wasn’t for YGI.”

Guite describes the program as the perfect combination of adult coaching and the limitless horizons of childhood. Getting involved is a chance to put youthful energy to work in a setting where professionals can guide it to fulfill its greatest potential. “At a young age, you’re in your own little world, and your imagination runs wild. Adults sometimes get caught up in thinking about why things might fail. Kids are looking to why things might succeed. That’s exemplified in YGI. You come in with big hopes, and think, ‘We can give all this money to so many deserving people. This is going to be amazing.’ You’re ready to make a big impact, but you also have to learn to think critically and choose between worthy organizations and that process can be difficult. But I love to learn and grow, and sharing opportunities with others was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

To learn more about the Youth Grant Initiative program and how to apply for the 2022 cohort, visit the YGI page.

Written by Jake Ten Pas.

Originally published in the May 2022 issue of The Winged M Magazine.