BY Monae Dale, Program Manager, Housing & Economic Opportunity at the California Community Foundation, and 2023 PLACES Fellow

As someone new in the philanthropy space, I was delighted to have the opportunity to apply for the PLACES fellowship as I prioritize professional development opportunities that challenge my thinking. I work as a program manager at the California Community Foundation and, in my role, grantmaking is prioritized through three programmatic areas: housing, economic opportunity, and mental health, focusing on youth and young adults ages 18 to 30.

As I prepared for the PLACES fellowship, in addition to learning about equity and sustainability, I wondered how I might see nonprofit organizations doing their own work in my target program areas. In our first site visit in Portland, Oregon there was a strong focus on addressing the looming housing crisis and acknowledging racism towards Black and Indigenous communities.

On their second site visit, PLACES fellows visited Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art,
the Hispanic Development Corporation, the Stoudamire Wellness Hub among other local organizations. 
Photo credit: Monae Dale

At our second site visit in Detroit, the theme of community engagement and building emerged. The experience of community was encapsulated as folks organized through movements, coalitions, and nonprofits with a focus on youth and young adults. This came as a surprise to me. Though Detroit once had a booming economy and thriving workforce, the state has also endured a decrease in economic mobility, exit of residents, abandoned homes and a water crisis. Maintaining community in a climate of adversity and lack of resources can pose a challenge. However, despite these challenges, Detroit still has a strong sense of community; and to dive deeper, a call to grow the community through youth support and young adult engagement.

Photo credit: Dion Cartwight

This was especially evident in visiting and speaking with multiple local organizations during our site visit. We were graciously welcomed at the Hispanic Development Corporation, The Stoudamire Wellness Hub and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Between the beautifully painted murals, or the open recreational space, the city felt like a place where everyone is welcomed and supported.

Photo credit: Dion Cartwight

We had the opportunity to sit with and listen to community leaders that represented organizations such as Flint Community Lab, Flint Development Center and We the People. All of which discussed water justice and the fight against water crisis. Each organization also highlighted programming that provides a pipeline for youth through workforce development skills, multi-generational teaching, and leadership development. The theme of youth involvement continued when we met with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation in which they discussed the importance of their space as a neutral zone for youth. They also verbalized the need to provide workforce development skills and opportunities for youth through paid positions. Additionally, The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit offered an eye-opening exhibit, Free Your Mind Art & Incarceration, highlighting the beautiful talent of incarcerated folks, while also calling attention to the juvenile justice system, specifically the pipeline from juvenile justice to adult incarceration and the desperate need to amend or fully abolish the system.

During my time as a social worker post graduate school, I worked in a drop-in center for homeless youth and young adults. I found that this population’s needs often go unmet. They are experiencing changes physically, mentally, and emotionally, while also attempting to navigate the world and plan for their future. It’s often expected that a young person has an idea of what they want to do straight out of high school. However, what happens to those who do not have a plan, do not have familial support, or perhaps are battling mental illness? We see that they often fall through the cracks or into a pipeline, such as the school to prison pipeline. Through this experience, I learned that creating communities for youth is key to foster positive outcomes as they enter adulthood. Youth require holistic support, safety, friendship, mentorship, teaching, etc.

I was inspired by the call for investing in the youth of Detroit. It’s imperative that we invest in AND empower youth while creating a pipeline of equity and accessibility. It is important to give up power and empower others, and I hope to see the impact of youth empowerment in Detroit.

As the great Whitney Houston once said, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” As for philanthropy, I challenge us to explore efforts and what role we can play in fostering youth engagement, support, and holistic care in our grantmaking and advocacy.

About the Author

Monae Dale is the Program Manager for Housing & Economic Opportunity at the California Community Foundation, where she stewards grantmaking and capacity-building support that allows young adults to thrive in stable, vital, and affordable communities. She is also a member of TFN’s 2023 PLACES Cohort.