South Bay Youth Changemakers: New nonprofit organizes Asian American youth

South Bay Youth Changemakers members speak against anti-Asian violence at a rally organized by PACT San Jose.South Bay Youth Changemakers members speak against anti-Asian violence at a rally organized by PACT San Jose.

Large, established nonprofits have traditionally gotten the lion’s share of both attention and funding from both foundations and government, while smaller organizations work with insufficient resources and little recognition.

“Throughout Silicon Valley, there are tons of organizations that have done important work but have gone unrecognized for years,” said Jack Mahoney, senior program officer for movement- and power-building atSilicon Valley Community Foundation. Many of these organizations have been run entirely by volunteers.

The latest round of grants from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Civic Participation: Movement- and Power-Building Fund aims to build up some of these smaller nonprofits in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, especially those whose leaders are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). Its goal is to rectify the power imbalance in Silicon Valley, where communities of color face significant hurdles to building power and effecting change. This year, Heising-Simons Foundation partnered with SVCF on the summer grantmaking round.

South Bay Youth Changemakers (SBYC) is one of the grantees from SVCF and Heising-Simons Foundation's movement- and power-building grantmaking round. SBYC is using its $50,000 grant for general operating support to build an organization by and for Asian American youth in Santa Clara County. The group is also a first-time SVCF grantee.

A newly formed nonprofit
South Bay Youth Changemakers was started in 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of providing its local youth participants with the tools and programs to help them become more engaged in politics and government.

The group held virtual summer programs in 2020 and 2021 to help local high school students develop their leadership skills. The programs were centered around political education, civic engagement and community exchanges. Other community-based organizations contributed by sharing about their own civic engagement work in the South Bay. The programs also examined a wider range of topics in depth, from mental health in schools to anti-Asian violence.

“The student participants also discussed the concentration of wealth in the South Bay Area, and how that creates a high-pressure, high-stakes environment in many of the schools in this region. Discussions also included topics such as climate change and climate justice, relating it to the wildfires the state is experiencing," said Ralph Leaño Atanacio, program coordinator with South Bay Youth Changemakers. 

The participants were also trained in phone banking and other forms of outreach, a critical strategy in helping the organization reach out to communities to talk about social issues, according to Leaño Atanacio.

South Bay Youth Changemakers youth and staff convene via Zoom in one of their last summer program sessions.South Bay Youth Changemakers youth and staff convene via Zoom in one of their last summer program sessions.

It’s a vision that fits right in to SVCF’s goals of helping historically marginalized communities build their power and voice.

“We're seeking to fund community-driven organizing projects,” Mahoney said.“If we can really build the power of underrepresented communities through funding projects that are designed and implemented by members of those communities, then we can see the kind of change we need.”

About 80 percent of the organizations that received grants in this round are BIPOC-led. The other 20 percent of grantees are committed allies. Most of the grants — 85 percent — were for general support, like the grant to South Bay Youth Changemakers. Nearly 60 percent of the recipients have budgets under $1 million, and most of the others have budgets between $1 million and $2 million.

New approaches to funding
In the past, funders would have hesitated to support organizations that did not have an established history or clear infrastructure to administer a grant. That thinking has changed.

“We have realized that it’s incumbent upon us -- the funders -- to help nonprofits build strong foundations so that they are set up for success,” Mahoney said. “Nonprofits can do more if they can build out staff, infrastructure and everything they need to organize more effectively.”

South Bay Youth Changemakers will use the general operating support grant from SVCF and Heising-Simons Foundation to help build their organizational capacity to help with long-term sustainability.

The group is still in the initial stages of growth. It is taking the first steps in community-organizing, starting with building a strong membership base. Now, with the help of the SVCF grant, it is beginning to move to year-round programming and a more advanced youth organizing model.

“We’re really focusing on building our solid base of youth,” Leaño Atanacio said. “Part of that is engaging with past members from our summer program, given that they have had a huge exposure to different social issues. We’re trying to build connections from these topics to develop an even stronger political analysis.”

They will use what they hear from the youth to build future campaigns.

“We want to make sure that their interests are centered in our programming,” Leaño Atanacio said. "As we continue to build a strong membership base, we're excited to develop campaigns incorporating the issues youth are most passionate about."