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Paying It Forward Across the Globe

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Inner City Youth For Change

In order to learn and grow, sometimes we must step outside of our usual comfort zones. Thanks to Inner City Youth for Change (IC Youth for Change), several students from Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) learned this lesson when they attended a service-learning trip to Sierra Leone last summer.

Formerly a program run by the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference (KCD), IC Youth for Change is an independent organization that empowers 11th and 12th graders with everything they need to serve others with compassion.

“Our main goal is to help young people see their own strengths and the potential they possess to make a difference in their communities and around the world,” said Jeaninne Butler-Sytsema, IC Youth for Change executive director.

Having been involved with IC Youth for Change since it was a part of the KCD, Butler-Sytsema has seen the program’s positive impact firsthand.

“Being able to watch students transform during the year-long program and knowing that their transformation will benefit their family and community is humbling,” she said. “IC Youth for Change works with eight to 10 students each year. Though our numbers for impact appear low, the trajectory of these young lives and the impact has the capacity to affect generations to come.”

This change begins during bi-weekly meetings where KPS students share their personal stories and life experiences. By doing this, the students develop a bond that brings them closer as a group. Additionally, participants study the effects of poverty on education, cultural history, and other topics involved with social justice.

After they have gotten to know one another, IC Youth for Change students begin to serve their community. In the past, among other service projects, the organization has helped raise public awareness for the homeless, delivered meals to those in need, and developed positive partnerships with the City of Kalamazoo Public Safety.

“One student said, ‘I never thought I would be on this end of giving and serving because a year prior I was living here,’” Butler-Sytsema said, referring to a participant who served meals at the gospel mission.

Paying it forward has always been an integral part of the program’s mission and the excursion to Sierra Leone allowed IC Youth for Change and Butler-Sytsema to do just that.

“After two years of hard work, IC Youth for Change students raised enough money to pay two years of college tuition for a young man in Sierra Leone,” she said. “During our service-learning trip to Sierra Leone, IC Youth for Change presented a monetary gift to the young man to pay his remaining college tuition. During the exchange, the Kalamazoo youth and the young African man were overcome with emotion, expressing gratitude for the experience.”

As a result of this visit, several students came away with a renewed sense of service and a deeper understanding of the capacity within themselves to make a difference in their lives and in their community.

“One student said to me, ‘This program changed my life. Before the trip, I did not think that I could do anything. This program helped me see that I have a lot to give,’” Butler-Sytsema recalled.

Now in its second year as an independent 501(c)(3) organization, IC Youth for Change wants to broaden its reach and overall impact.

“It is our goal to further develop our partnership with The Kalamazoo Promise,” Butler-Sytsema said. “We would love to meet in The Promise’s new building as well as recruit more adult mentors and students through The Kalamazoo Promise.”

Interested in helping IC Youth for Change with their mission for change? Donations can be made via the organization’s website.

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