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Tacoma: A Youth Summit Success Story

One teenager from Tacoma, Wash., writes an award-winning essay about making a difference for youth in her community after World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit last summer in Washington, D.C.

January 2008

Sixteen-year-old Maya Pisel stands in front of the White House with her fellow delegates from Tacoma, Wash., during World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C., last summer.
Sixteen-year-old Maya Pisel (center) stands in front of the White House with her fellow delegates from Tacoma, Wash., during World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C., last summer.
© 2007/World Vision staff
Last June, 16-year-old Maya Pisel of Tacoma, Wash., represented her city at World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C. The three-day event afforded some 90 young delegates from regions across the United States an opportunity to meet with their lawmakers and discuss challenges faced by youth in their communities.

The experience inspired Maya to join a youth grant-making board in her community and participate in an essay contest sponsored by the Make the Dash Count Foundation. Her winning words provided a grant for Club Friday, a World Vision-supported late-night youth outreach center in Tacoma that serves at-risk adolescents.

In the essay — shown below in its entirety — Maya discusses how she discovered her ability to make a meaningful difference for young people by attending the summit and serving on the youth board.

Getting Unstuck

A year ago, I felt stuck. I was 15 years old, unhappy with the world, and I didn't feel like I could do anything about it. It was around then when I was nominated to participate in a youth advocacy program at Club Friday. I was scared of a lot of things on my first trip to Club Friday, but soon, I started learning. I learned about gentrification and development, about poverty, about social justice. I learned about race and gender and religion. I learned about business and nonprofits and government. Most importantly, I learned that there were many young people who didn't seem like me but who felt like me, and that together, we could get something done. I learned freedom, and I learned hope. At the end of our program, we developed recommendations to improve the lives of youth in Tacoma, flew to Washington, D.C., and presented our work to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

I learned a lot in my work with Club Friday. One of the most powerful lessons was the fact that underneath it all is money. At the end of the day, I realized not only that somebody had to pay for our advisers and our plane tickets, but that most of our recommendations involved a high level of economic awareness and financial support. It became quite obvious that it takes some serious cash to create a healthy community. In one of our discussions on funding, our adviser asked if any of us were interested in serving on a local youth grant-making board. I was quite interested in the role money played in making our community better, so I applied for a position on the Make the DASH Count Foundation's South Sound Youth Board.

A Group With a Voice

I was offered a position on the board last summer. The South Sound Youth Board is made up of a diverse group of teenagers from around the [southern Puget Sound region of Washington state]. We will grant $20,000 this spring to organizations that benefit youth at risk of not fulfilling their potential. A position on the board presented an opportunity for me to help decide which programs in our community would get funding.

Youth delegates from Tacoma attend a meeting to prepare for the Youth Empowerment Summit last year. Maya is seated second from right.
Youth delegates from Tacoma attend a meeting to prepare for the Youth Empowerment Summit last year. Maya is seated second from right.
© 2007 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision

As a board member, I am responsible for looking for ways that our grant dollars can make the most impact in our community. At the beginning of the year, we decided to focus our funding on preventing gang violence. Throughout the past couple of months, we have listened to community members who have experience with the role of gangs in our community: a school counselor, a police officer, and a young woman who has managed to avoid participating in gangs by focusing on dance.

Challenging Decisions


In the spring, we will participate in site visits at the organizations that have completed full proposals, and then we have to decide which of the programs we will fund. Throughout it all, we work together navigating the treacherous waters of teamwork, group decision-making, and meeting protocol. When I first joined the board, I thought it would be easy to give money away. From what I have seen, there are a lot of people out there doing good work, and we are going to have some really tough choices ahead of us.

Interestingly, the Make the DASH Count Foundation funded Club Friday last year. Now, I sit at the same table as the people who helped fund one of the most important experiences of my life. But more importantly, I know that I am facilitating other great experiences. Every day, people feel stuck. My hope is that I can help more of them take one giant risk, walk into somewhere new, and learn just how much of a difference they can make.


Learn More


>> Read an eNews article about World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit last June.

Two Ways You Can Help

>> Please pray for God's blessing on young people like Maya who are working hard to produce positive changes in their communities across the United States. Pray that these adolescents would serve as role models and sources of inspiration for their peers.
>> Donate now to World Vision's U.S. programs.

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