Photo depicting a diverse group of youth of color smiling for the camera.

SESEC Youth Participatory Grant Program Allocates $10K to 3 Organizations

by Lauryn Bray

The Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) just wrapped up its Youth Participatory Grant Making (YPGM) project, a program in which a group of high-school-aged Youth of Color from southeast Seattle schools were invited to learn about and engage in philanthropy. The cohort of students was given $10,000 to grant to organizations that fit a set list of criteria, determined by the students. With the guidance of SESEC’s Vivian van Gelder, director of advocacy and policy at SESEC, and group facilitator Simmy Kumar, the students designed and went through the grant applications themselves, choosing specifically to award organizations that provide housing and education services.

“For us, it was important to involve youth specifically because youth need to be part of the conversation about how resources are to be distributed,” explained van Gelder. “Young people are often aware of the issues that are affecting youth years before adults know what’s happening.”

SESEC was founded in 2012 after a report identifying the lowest-performing schools in Washington listed five schools in Seattle, which were all located in the South End. Since its inception, the coalition’s goal has been to bring community together to ensure quality education and support in developing advocacy skills. Historically, SESEC has partnered with community organizations that work with schools, and Gelder says this is its first year of working directly with students.

The YPGM program was designed for students of color. “We called out to kids through all channels and said priority would go to students of color, and students from the South End,” said van Gelder. 

Despite accepting 19 students total, the program’s core group was made up of 12 or 13 individuals who came to almost every meeting, and eight joined on the last day. Ian Bright, Helîn Taskesen, and Gabby Donaldson were already there when the Emerald arrived. As time passed, more began to trickle in. By the time the group began deliberating about which organizations should receive the remaining $5,000, everyone who would be arriving was present. Unfortunately, regular participants Abby Skeel, Rahma Wakko, Wei Yin Chin, and Itlyn Raymond were not able to attend the last meeting for personal reasons.

After Haneen Al Ziyad, Lujain Al Ziyad, Simon Kidane, Shaimaa Sheikh, and Alan Tran arrived, the real work began. Sheikh and Tran, who were the last two to arrive, were immediately handed grant applications and told to get to work, while the rest of the group was already engaged in a discussion about finances. 

Originally, the group wanted to award four different organizations with one stipend of $2,500 each in an attempt to do what they thought might maximize impact. However, as the students analyzed the gravity of the work each organization does, they realized that splitting up the last $5,000 between two organizations providing housing services may not go as far as they hoped.

The Emerald witnessed firsthand the SESEC’s objective for the program, offering youth lessons in philanthropy, fulfilled as the students discussed the dissonance between expectation and result. As the students realized there simply weren’t enough funds to go around, they concluded that more work needs to be done to support organizations providing social services.

Donaldson, 15, says the program has heightened her appreciation for those who choose to give back.

“With money, people have a lot of power. They have power to go around things, to walk about life how they want. And [it’s important] to see people in places of power using their money for people that don’t have the same opportunities and resources as them — knowing that they don’t have to care about people with less than them, but [seeing] that they still care regardless, and they’re giving away some of their power to the people below them to [help them] to possibly get to where they are.”

“I think it’s something that everyone sort of needs to do,” explained Donaldson, “because we’re all in different places of life, and being able to look back to those people that need a little bit more support and help them rather than only focusing on ourselves and how far we can get, is something that I believe everyone should have within themselves.”

In the end, the students realized that the best way to maximize the impact of the funds was to choose organizations that provided the most details about how the money would be spent. 

Taskesen is the founder of the Middle Eastern/North African Exchange (MENA-X), a club-turned-mentorship-program for elementary students interested in learning about Middle Eastern/North African culture. Taskesen also works with the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club, and teaches coding to elementary school students. So she is no stranger to the grant application process herself, and she says being transparent about finances is the best way to appeal to fundholders. 

“I started an organization that I’m trying to turn into a nonprofit. So I’ve always been applying for grants. This is why I chose to do this — so I could see the backstage, how the grantmaking process works from the grantor [perspective],” said Taskesen. “And so something that I think is very important is, even if you’re a world-renowned organization, still always realizing that someone might not know about your organization, or the specific impacts that you’ve made.”

After deliberations ended, the group voted to award $5,000 to the Somali Family Safety Task Force, $2,500 to AVELA, and $2,500 to South End Stories.

“The most rewarding part of being in this program has been knowing that I’m able to help people that I probably wouldn’t be able to get to know,” explained Donaldson. “So to be able to have a direct effect for some people that can change the rest of their lives has really made me feel good about myself.” 

Donaldson recently became Black Student Union leader and Planned Parenthood leader at her school. “I continue to strive to leave something behind that’s bigger than myself — something that’s going to help people just like me to be better than who they already are,” she said.

Cohort No. 2 of SESEC’s Youth Participatory Grant Making program is set to commence in fall of this year. If all goes well, the program’s impact will continue to be felt among the next group of students.

“This place has taught me more than I’ve learned anywhere else,” said Lujain Al Ziyad. “It taught me how to not only advocate for others, but to understand [them as well]. I know what it’s like to not be listened to. I know what it’s like to have no power. So when it comes to places like this that will give you a voice, it’s nice because it makes you feel heard.”

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 06/21/2023 to correct the spelling of Haneen Alziyad’s name and the acronym for the Middle Eastern/North African Exchange (MENA-X).

Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: Youth members of Cohort No. 1 of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition’s Youth Participatory Grant Making program. (Photo courtesy of SESC.)

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