Common Ground Teen Center's "Smash the Stereotype" project participants.

Young people are once again funding youth-led groups in the latest incarnation of Teens 4 Change from the Three Rivers Community Foundation (TRCF).

TRCF gives to groups that work for social justice, and Teens 4 Change’s charge is to do the same. The students in the program, this year from Pittsburgh CAPA, East Allegheny, Oakland Catholic and Shaler Area high schools, are taught both what makes a worthwhile nonprofit and what makes an effective grant.

Six awards were given among the 13 groups applying this year, ranging from $900 to $1,700. Included with this year’s grant winners was TeenBloc’s “We Deserve to Be Heard” campaign, run through A+ Schools, which will be holding open mic nights concerning issues in education pertinent to Pittsburgh students, starting this fall.

The Braddock Youth Project also received funding for a learning garden for young people in the borough’s second ward. “It’s a food desert,” says Sydney Olberg, who directs Teens 4 Change, “so they learn how to grow their own – and cook with the things they grow.”

The young philanthropists also awarded funds to The Real Talk Performers, at Common Ground Teen Center in Washington County, since the program extends to several counties outside Allegheny. Common Ground’s project is called Smash the Stereotype, an art and essay contest in three different local schools.

Before Teens 4 Change members make their final decisions, says Olberg, they meet with all of the applicants for Q&A sessions.

“A lot of the groups brought in actual young people who are running their program,” said Olberg, which impressed the Teens 4 Change members. In turn, Teens 4 Change members were able to ask “really good, clarifying questions” about each applicant’s budgets and ability to create social change.

This year’s other grantees were Amachi Ambassadors, Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP)’s Student-led Anti-Violence Summit and the Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment (PRYSE) Academy.

Besides growing the number of applicants and board members, Olberg concluded, “we’re hoping that Teens 4 Change becomes an aid to build a community for youth-led social justice groups – a capacity-builder.”

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.