How Invest in Youth Grantee YVote is Developing the Next Gen Voters
Through our Invest in Youth Initiative we have distributed nearly $20 million since the program’s launch in 2015—including $2.475 million to 56 nonprofit organizations in 2022, the majority of which serve communities of color and are led by BIPOC executive directors. We’re especially proud to see this game-changing initiative expand its reach to 19 new grantees, including YVote, whose work focuses on Gen Z voters.
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history, with 48% being nonwhite, but that alone doesn’t guarantee a changing political landscape. “One challenge, however, is that these young people are leaving their collective power on the table when they choose not to engage in the political process,” maintains Sanda Balaban, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn-based, youth-centered nonprofit, YVote. For Balaban, this became woefully apparent during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
“What really motivated us [to found YVote] was the level of vitriol and polarization we saw across our nation, coupled with lower turnout among younger voters,” says Balaban. Today, YVote stands at the intersection of education and politics, helping to spark a cross-partisan youth voting movement through which young people connect their passions and beliefs with how they can make a difference at the ballot box – and beyond.
“What we found was a missed opportunity for young people who were at the peak of identity formation in adolescence.,” recalls Balaban. “This was the perfect time to help them crystallize their sense of civic identity, agency, and advocacy — so they could better understand why they should vote.”
Their work with the youth is nothing short of amazing. For instance, there’s a regular Gen Z-produced podcast, The Round Table, which features civically minded young people from different parts of the country in conversation. This past summer, they held a YVote Change Makers Institute, where they worked with 45 high school students to explore everything from identity and power to civic engagement and politics.
“It’s amazing to see the degree to which Gen Z cares about issues in our society,” says Katie Hetlage, YVote’s director of communications and development. “I tell everyone that you’d be surprised by just how much they really want to see solutions — and they won’t allow themselves to be put into an ideological box.”
YVote has a wide range of new and exciting initiatives on the horizon, including working with community boards to learn how to engage young people and encourage them to run for office. Learn more about their work at YVoteNY.org.