Youth Advisory Council grants focus on reading initiative

Friday, May 4, 2018
The Youth Advisory Council awarded 10 grants this year to local nonprofits that support youth and children’s programs in the area.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) gives back annually to nonprofits that support local youth and children’s programs, and this year’s grant ceremony had a special focus on encouraging young readers to develop their literacy skills.

The 2018 YAC Giving Tree Grant Recipients were the Carroll County Senior Activity and Wellness Center, Cub Scout Pack No. 188, the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation, Flint Street Fellowship, Grandma’s House Children’s Advocacy Center, the Holiday Island Rotary Foundation, Loaves & Fishes Little Red Bookshelf, Northwest Arkansas Head Start, Project Self-Esteem and the Eureka Springs Elementary Library.

Janelle Robertson, executive director of the Carroll County Community Foundation, said the grants come from the Carroll County Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council Endowment, which is invested, grows and gives back every year to Carroll County projects focused on improving the lives of youth and children. Donations to this and all of the endowments and funds held by the foundation are 100 percent tax-deductible, she said.

“One of the things we do is take direction from the Arkansas Community Foundation and work on special initiatives,” Robertson said. “One we’re working on right now is called ‘Grade Level Reading.’ ”

In Arkansas, she said only about 37 percent of third-graders read at or above proficiency levels.

“That is a pretty striking and heartbreaking number,” she said. “Kids from kindergarten to third grade are learning to read, but, from third grade on, they are reading to learn. If they can’t read, then they can’t learn.”

Robertson said that’s why several of the grant recipients this year were programs focusing on early childhood education and literacy skills.

“The students really took that to heart and made some really great decisions this year to support everything that’s going on in the Arkansas Community Foundation,” she said.

The grant awards ceremony was held Wednesday in the Carroll Electric Community Room and also featured a silent auction fundraiser. Robertson said art students from Eureka Springs, Berryville and Green Forest school districts donated their artwork for the silent auction, and attendees voted on the top three pieces and were able to bid on them.

This year’s “Best of Show” winner was Hayden Nance of Eureka Springs.

“All the funds for the artwork will go to support our YAC grand endowment,” Robertson said, “which means every dollar donated tonight will grow and give back forever. The contribution from the art students is something we truly appreciate.”

The YAC program has been going on since 2002, Robertson said, and currently has about 14 high school students from all three schools. This year’s members were Amber Veach, Toño Mendez, Cecilia Doss, Dakota Hall-Alvard, Gracie Beck, Grayson Ertel, Henry Holtkamp, Kymbreana Conard, Madison Eastburn, Madison Smalley, Megan Holloway, Misael Cifuentes, Rachel Adams and Adrienne Aguilera.

“We’re also open to homeschoolers and local private schools,” she said. “Students apply to be part of YAC, and current YAC students help select the new members each year.”

Robertson said the program’s goal is to grow young philanthropists.

“We don’t necessarily want them to be philanthropists through just their money but also their time and talents,” she said. “We learned about nonprofits and had members of the organizations come in and speak to us.”

She said the students also did community service projects, including packing food bags at Loaves & Fishes.

“We’re really excited about our YAC program,” Robertson said. “It seems to be filled with really bright, wonderful, energetic students, and it’s really fun to be able to work with them.”

YAC adviser Donna Hill said the students review the grant applications and select which nonprofits will receive them.

“These kids have access to the applications online,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to go through every one of them and take notes. When they get back together in our March meeting, they make the selections, talk about it and change their minds as they go through the process. I’m so impressed. It’s quite amazing, but these are amazing kids.”

Hill said the students then give out the awards themselves at the grant ceremony.

“This is the accumulation of all their work,” she said. “They get to give out the awards themselves, so there’s their ownership for this whole thing.”

For the art auction, Hill said the YAC students contact the schools at the beginning of the year.

“They get the message out to all the art teachers that we’ve having this again if they want to participate,” she said. “The students go around and visit with the art teachers and make sure they understand the deadlines, dates and so forth.”

Hill continued, “It’s kind of a yearlong thing. We have these wonderful kids who just give their artwork as donations. They are competing for prizes, but that’s still hard to do.”

Green Forest sophomore Henry Holtkamp said the YAC students spend the year learning about the people doing community service around Carroll County.

“Toward April, we’ll decide who to give our grant out to,” he said. “I joined YAC because I kind of wanted to get another look into what’s going on in our community. It’s an outlet to see where the need is in Carroll County.”

“I think it’s a fun experience because it gives us new knowledge of what can help us in the future,” said Green Forest sophomore Toño Mendez.

Eureka Springs sophomore Megan Holloway said she joined YAC this year and has learned about the fundraising and donation processes of nonprofits.

“I decided to join because I wanted to do something to help our community,” she said, “and this is like my way of doing that. I really love helping everybody.”

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