Local youth give $2.5M to BIPOC-led organizations through Brooklyn Community Foundation

UPROSE, members of which are pictured here marching for climate justice in September, 2021, was one of 55 local organizations recently awarded grants from the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Invest in Youth program.
File photo by Paul Frangipane

The Brooklyn Community Foundation recently shared $2.5 million with local non-profit youth organizations — nearly 75 percent of which are Black-, indigenous-, or people-of-color-led.

Over the span of four months, 16 Youth Advisory Council members from ages 16 to 24 directed where the grant money would go, marking the start of the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s full transition into participatory grant making.

In all, the Brooklyn Community Foundation split the pool between 55 different organizations — 55 percent of which currently have budgets under $1 million. Those groups in turn receive the organization’s Invest in Youth grant, part of a program which aims to increase opportunities and improve outcomes for young people of color in Brooklyn.

“We were definitely filling a gap for many of these organizations,” LeAnne Alexander, program officer at the Brooklyn Community Foundation, told Brooklyn Paper.

Continuing to support smaller organizations “on the ground,” the Brooklyn Community Foundation is focused on achieving “equal-access quality education,” and “promoting youth voice,” Alexander said. The grant application only asked two questions: how would the money be used and what is the organization’s greatest need.

“We are not a funder that is looking to overburden our grantee partners with spending valuable time filling grant applications,” Alexander said.

In participatory grant making, local leaders are fully immersed in decision making and distributing funds from the foundation.

Brayan Pagoada, a 22-year-old member of Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, moved to the US from Honduras as a child. Quickly plugging into a local non-profit, he realized his passion to create safe spaces for underserved youth.

“I didn’t have any financial support, or I didn’t have the space, but being able to have the support from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, I was able to create the space,” said Pagoada, who also serves as deputy director for organizing at Churches United for Fair Housing.

Through dispersing the grant, he most hopes to instill positive leadership in communities and local school systems.

“I went to one of the schools where one of our members is and I saw 11 police officers entering,” Pagoada said. “I didn’t see any doctor, social worker, or campus counselor.”

Pagoada also wants to see young volunteers getting paid. He hopes youth today working in non-profits will “fall in love with the things they are doing,” and return full-time.

Those in charge at community gardening group Green Guerillas, one of Brooklyn Community Foundation’s 55 grantees, admire the organization for its like-minded emphasis on youth leadership.

A young intern at an herbalism workshop at Morning Glory Community Garden in the Bronx, hosted by Green Guerillas.Green Guerillas Youth Empowerment Pipeline

Youth are involved in every stage of Green Guerillas, from composing who’s a part of the program, to hands-on work in the community interviewing gardeners and planting gardens, said Executive Director Sarah McCollum Williams.

The Boerum Hill-based group will use the grant to create a full-time position, up its number of interns and increase work hours available for current students.

“That’s very important to us,” McCollum Williams said, “to compensate the youth who are part of the program.”

For 25-year-old Iyeshima Harris-Ouedraogo, co-director of the Youth Empowerment Pipeline at Green Guerillas, getting this kind of grant money hits home.

In high school, the young leader remembers colleges lacking urban agriculture and food justice programs. Despite having this passion, she and her peers had nowhere to pursue it, prompting the creation of the Pipeline, which focuses on creating career paths for its youth members.

“We need programs like this,” Harris-Ouedraogo said. “There’s a lot of programs that are focused on youth or teenagers in middle school and high school, but [very little] that focus on college or in between.”

Since its founding in 2009, Brooklyn Community Foundation has provided over $75 million in grants to nonprofits. In the last decade alone, the group has given $17 million to local organizations through the Invest in Youth program.

For a full list of organizations that received grants this year, visit BrooklynCommunityFoundation.org.