This year, the OCF has so much to celebrate, including the 30th anniversary of the OCF Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) and the Youth Fund of the OCF.  

YAC is a group of community-minded Otsego County high schoolers and their advisors, Dave Beyers and Mariah Beyer, who, among other duties, award grants to local nonprofit organizations from the Youth Fund. The formation of YAC and Youth Funds statewide is the product of a groundbreaking effort to spread youth philanthropy throughout Michigan community foundations and all 83 counties that started in the early 1990s—the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP).  

The seeds of the MCFYP were planted earlier than that. The Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) approached the W.K. Kellog Foundation in the late 1980s with the idea of funding challenge grants to strengthen Michigan community foundations. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) was interested in this proposal, but they added one important requirement. For the WKKF to be involved in a challenge grant, the community foundations would need to involve youth in their philanthropy. A statewide effort to start Youth Funds began. The WKKF donated 50 cents to Michigan Youth Funds for every dollar donated to an endowed fund at a community foundation. Youth Advisory Committees (YAC), groups of high school students and their advisors, were established by community foundations to manage the youth funds. The formation of YACs statewide was overseen by CMF.  

Dr. Russ Mawby, then chair of WKF, described his vision for MCFYP in a landmark speech in 1991: 

MCFYP gives young people the opportunity to learn generosity in the only practical way: by being generous. It will teach them to meet community challenges by raising funds for good works. It will teach them to be good stewards by giving them opportunities to make the hard decisions on wise giving. It will give them the opportunity to ask, to serve, and through serving, to lead. 

-Dr. Russ Mawby

The OCF YAC grants money to their community every year. Like any other grantmaking group, the YAC members review proposals and hear presentations from prospective grantees. The money they allocate addresses important issues in the community. Since its inception, the OCF YAC has awarded over $56,000 from the Youth Fund of the OCF. Today, the Youth Fund has grown to almost $100,000. According to Dave Beyers, this is the “coolest thing” about mentoring this group. He watches them take their role as responsible stewards of the Youth Fund grant money very seriously. As the needs of Otsego County students and youth change, so do their grants. These students get to make a significant impact in the community based on community voices. “We don’t steer them in any way,” Dave says when the students decide where to award the grant money from the Youth Fund. The students “discuss, counter, and compromise” as part of the grantmaking process, which is very much in line with Dr. Mawbry’s vision over thirty years ago. 

YAC awards grants based on the results of annual needs surveys, which provide a voice for Otsego County students. Additionally, YAC provides a channel for teachers to share their perspectives.  Surveys alternate years between student needs surveys and teacher needs surveys. The student needs surveys, sent to older students, provide a picture of the areas of needs of OC students directly from them. The teacher surveys allow the teachers to act as proxies for the younger students who cannot voice their needs on their own.  

Dave has been advising Youth Advisory Committee Groups since the early 2000’s. Over the decades, he has seen a shift in what is on the minds of students in this area. Two decades ago, the biggest problems were teen pregnancy, alcohol, and marijuana. Those concerns do not show up on this year’s list of the biggest problems facing our youth. Concerns about mental health and activity options for kids are the problems facing kids today.  

Their 2024 YAC grantmaking decisions reflect this. This year, the Youth Fund awarded grants to:  

  • Ralph Holewinski VFW Post 1518—This grant will help construct a half-mile multi-use nature trail around the perimeter of Veterans Community Park.  
  • The Gaylord Soccer League—The grant goes toward a hydration station on the soccer fields to promote environmental responsibility.  
  • Vanderbilt Area Schools—The Youth Fund fully funded the request for new playground equipment for Vanderbilt Area Schools.  
  • Kirtland Community College—This grant goes toward purchasing safety kits for GHS students enrolled in the welding program.  
  • State Trooper Outreach Program—This grant goes toward refurnishing and updating the sensory room at Gaylord Intermediate School.  

Members of YAC can impact cultural change in the community we call home. YACers hear from fellow students and respond to their needs accordingly. They gain a growing awareness of where the needs of our community lie and work to create a positive change through grantmaking. They get experience with civil service early.  

For Mariah Beyer, her YAC experience has come full circle. From 2007-2010, she was a St. Mary’s YAC representative and currently serves as one of its advisors. She has seen the impact of YAC on our community expand over the years.  

When I was involved with YAC, we awarded mini-grants for teachers.  Flash forward to now, I am co-advising YAC and seeing the program’s growth into what it is today. It is rewarding and inspiring to see the YAC students from different schools collaborating and actively participating together to be the voice of the youth in our community

-Mariah Beyer, OCF YAC Co-Advisor

YAC meets 7-8 times a year, for 2-3 hours at a time. This is a relatively small time commitment compared to this group’s significant impact on our community. Advisor Dave Beyers ensures that the meetings are not filled with busy work and respects the students’ time. They participate in 1 service project a year outside of the regular meetings.  

Any students interested in becoming involved in this dynamic and impactful group can reach out to Dave Beyers ( or Mariah Beyer ( before the school year is finished. This is a terrific opportunity to have your voice heard!  

Listen to what current YACers have to say about getting involved in the community. (Videos from Avery Huston – YAC President, and Emery Blust – YAC member.)