New London youth advocacy group nabs $50,000 award
New London — An outpouring of support from the community has helped to propel a New London youth advocacy group to earn a $50,000 award from a New England philanthropic organization.
Hearing Youth Voices received the news on Dec. 2 that it had won the youth organizing award from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The group was one of the seven finalists from across New England in the running for the award.
"I am so amazed and impressed by what the community can do when we come together,” said Shineika Fareus, youth organizer at Hearing Youth Voices, in a prepared statement.
“We had a huge team of young people working really hard to make this happen ... and we did it,” she said. “As young people, we don’t always feel like the community respects us and has our back. But everyone really came through for us on this. The community showed us that they care about young people, our struggles and our futures,” she said.
Hearing Youth Voices is credited with performing research, presenting evidence and making a public appeal in the form of the “We Want to Graduate" Campaign that helped shape a new New London High School attendance policy.
The group determined some students, mostly minorities, were not graduating because of lost credits for things other than class work, such as absences and suspensions. The school’s revised policy now includes a better notification system and interventions instead of punishments so students and their families are better informed of the process.
Hearing Youth Voices also successfully advocated for students to become voting members of the Board of Education’s Policy Committee.
“The students of Hearing Youth Voices are a testament to how young people can take ownership over their education, ensuring that their voices are heard in key decision-making. Through their leadership, they are building skills that will serve them long after their next campaign, project or school year; they are growing into community leaders,” said Nick Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, in a written statement.
“Together these students are conveying an important lesson in civic engagement for the benefit of their peers and community. I’m thrilled to congratulate them on this tremendous achievement,” he said.
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education.
Laura Burfoot, campaign director for Hearing Youth Voices, said it was “amazing to watch everyone on the team stretch outside of their comfort zones and do things they have never done before,” to get the word out that the public vote would decide the winner.
The group garnered 6,532 votes out of the more than 18,000 ballots cast by text and email. Hearing Youth Voices beat out finalists from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.
For information on the nomination process, selection of finalists and the Nellie Mae Youth Organizing Award, visit the Students at the Center Hub website.
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