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Adult Allies Empower Youth As Leaders of Today and for the Future

In this installment of CMF Community Voices – a special edition as part of our year-long 50th anniversary celebration – Megan Gydesen, Michigan Community Foundation's Youth Project Committee Member, shares more of her reflections as a former Manistee County Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council member and her learnings from this year's Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference

Megan Gydesen, Michigan Community Foundation's Youth Project Committee Member


CMF Community Voices features a series of conversations and insights from leaders across our community of philanthropy. This curated collection of blogs and Q&As lifts up inspiring voices from changemakers providing reflections in the areas of Equity, People, Practice and Policy, with equity at the center.

Adult Allies Empower Youth As Leaders of Today and for the Future

By Megan Gydesen, Michigan Community Foundation's Youth Project Committee Member

It wasn’t until this summer's Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference, hosted by CMF and the Michigan Community Foundations Youth Project (MCFYP) Committee, that I was introduced to the term ”adult ally.” Since that moment, I have been compelled to discover what it means.

While the term seemed simple enough at first, it gradually began to puzzle me and bring plenty of questions to the front of my mind. What makes someone a true adult ally? How can I act as an adult ally as I begin to leave the youth phase of my life?

After some reminiscing, I realized that my entire life, I had been surrounded by adult allies. My adult allies were the people who encouraged me to chase my passions, the ones who helped me step out of my comfort zone in order to grow into who I am today. They were the people who let me speak and be heard.

I was lucky enough to have a mother who acted as my first adult ally. She worried about more than just scraped knees and messy bedrooms; she was supportive of my ideas and valued my presence within our house. Whether that was through hanging art I made or helping me in my goal to start recycling, she always made a point to show me that she saw value in my ideas regardless of my age.

Similarly, my high school science teacher was another adult ally who changed my view on my role within my community. He often made the claim that youth had the ability to change the world and that change could start from within our school. He showed his faith in this claim by entrusting me with complete control of different project action plans and encouraging me to find my own unique solutions based on my studies.

My first adult ally in the world of philanthropy was my Youth Advisory Council (YAC) advisor and now long-time mentor, Hannah Rodriguez, who serves as a program officer and the MCFYP advisor at Manistee County Community Foundation. She introduced me to the world of youth philanthropy and showed me that using my voice could create impacts that influenced far more than just a household or a school. It could influence entire communities and help guide other youth across Michigan.

Hannah taught me the valuable lesson that the only way my voice can be heard is if I am brave enough to speak.

These lessons are truly crucial as a youth in the world of philanthropy. Oftentimes, our reality is that when there are big discussions or decisions about youth, we aren’t invited to the table. Our opinions and voices aren’t innately a part of those conversations, and because of that, they are often forgotten. We are forced to play a backseat role in our schools, communities and ultimately in our lives.

A common belief is that serious conversations should be left to those who are older and likely have a deeper understanding of how to navigate philanthropy’s rules and guidelines. But that doesn’t have to be true. This mindset ignores the fact that youth have unique perspectives and formative experiences of their own, all of which make them experts in their own rights.

It dismisses the idea that without the chance to learn how these systems work and function, youth will never get the chance to better themselves, for their generation and for generations to come.

In rooms worldwide, there will be conversations about how to help, encourage or engage youth in some form that won't allow youth to have a seat at all tables. Without youth perspective being represented in these conversations, we cannot fully contextualize and understand their needs.

By engaging youth leaders and evaluating how we support youth in our councils, we open ourselves up to enriching conversations with unique and important perspectives. Furthermore, by introducing youth to the systems that determine factors of their life, we are bound to discover new ideas, innovations and concepts born to navigate these systems.

Adult allies come in many forms and settings, but they all share the drive to encourage youth in their journeys. In YACs and youth philanthropy efforts across Michigan, we get the chance to work alongside youth as we create a positive impact in our community instead of merely working in their name.

In helping our youth share their opinions on issues that impact their communities, we can act as adult allies for future and current generations, all by providing an outlet for these young leaders.


CMF is a national leader in engaging and developing the skills and voices of youth in philanthropy and within their communities. Learn more about youth philanthropy in our state.

We are thrilled to share these installments of CMF Community Voices as we continue our year-long future-focused 50th anniversary celebration.
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