Find out how Deaconess Foundation is serving young people through its youth advocacy efforts

When Karissa Anderson takes her place at a podium to speak in Jefferson City, Missouri, she faces a challenge. The young policy intern is trying to convince education leaders and legislators who are two and three times her age to create more open access to higher education.

Anderson, who is wrapping up her master’s degree in social work at St. Louis University this month, is one of six policy interns at the Scholarship Foundation. The internship program is largely funded by the Deaconess Foundation, which awards grants to give young people tools to make a difference.

The advocacy grants are part of Deaconess’ strategy to assist child-focused organizations in becoming stronger and more effective agents of positive change for children. In 2014, Deaconess Foundation awarded more than $500,000 to 24 organizations to strengthen systems that achieve better outcomes for children and youth.

This year, Deaconess Foundation will convene a policy advisory board to provide its Advocacy and Policy Committee with guidance from local researchers and policymakers regarding the organization’s advocacy and public policy efforts to promote child well-being as a regional priority.

This year’s grants, which will be awarded in June, focus specifically on those projects that empower youth to action because such projects are more successful, says Alex Stallings, director of advocacy and communications for the Deaconess Foundation.

“There’s a lot of youth movement happening, and to bolster that is to have youth-organizing infrastructure,” says Stallings.

In early April, the Deaconess Foundation convened 150 child advocates from the St. Louis region for a day-long engagement at the 33rd Annual Missouri Child Advocacy Day. More than two charter buses of community leaders led by United Church of Christ congregants participated in advocacy workshops, a march, rally, fellowship and meetings with key legislators on child well-being issues. Participants spoke with elected officials and discussed policy priorities.

Anderson attended the event in addition to making other trips to meet with legislators through the Scholarship Foundation, which uses Deaconess Foundation funds to empower college students to organize and speak up for educational causes.

“I have learned that policy work is slow,” says Anderson, who has not yet seen her state’s higher education open to students with deferred immigration status, an issue for which she has been advocating.

But Anderson says she has gained a lot of practical experience that has boosted her textbook knowledge.

“When an African-American, 24-year-old woman can walk into a room of mostly older white men and command the attention of the room, that’s pretty important to me,” she says.

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