Submitted by the Washington State Department of Commerce
The COVID-19 outbreak, extended school closures, and social distancing have deepened inequities and hardships for young people across Washington. In response, youth development programs quickly adapted their services to provide supports for youth and families to whom they are deeply connected. Expanded or adapted offerings have included emergency childcare, social-emotional supports, academic mentoring, virtual programming, and basic needs supports. For many families, these organizations have been a sustaining lifeline. By providing access to essential services and pivoting to offer expanded learning opportunities online, they have helped ensure that young people remain safe, engaged and supported.
The Washington State Department of Commerce created the Washington Youth Development Nonprofit Relief Fund and partnered with School’s Out Washington to implement it. The funding was made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. This one-time investment helps nonprofits keep their doors open and manage programmatic and financial challenges including lost revenue and increased expenses to adhere to new safety measures.
“As far as we’ve come together in combating COVID-19, we still have a long way to go. Nonprofit organizations are absolutely crucial for supporting and lifting up the children and youth most at risk of falling behind or suffering the physical and emotional impacts of this pandemic. But our community organizations can’t do their work without funding. We are in this together, and these grants are one way we can help keep our communities strong,” Washington State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said.
A total of $9.4 million was awarded to 421 youth development organizations. Awards were distributed across all areas of the state with a focus on organizations serving priority populations that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (BIPOC, LGBTQ, migrants/immigrants, youth with disabilities and youth in poverty, among others). Awards range from $10,000 to $50,000 and will be distributed between mid-November and Dec. 15.
Recipients of the grant include Orcas Island Education Foundation’s Early Reading Intervention Program, The Funhouse, and Lopez Island Family Resource Center’s youth programs.
Commerce chose to work with School’s Out Washington because of the organization’s field expertise, equity lens, grant-making experience, and capacity to lead a complex process on an unusually fast timeline. The process was designed to break down barriers to funding for grassroots organizations around the state that directly support BIPOC youth, youth in poverty, and other highly-impacted youth populations.
The RFP was released on September 23 and over 600 applications were received by the deadline on October 6. The RFP was translated into 13 languages. Commerce’s business resiliency network team provided technical assistance to support applicants from every region in the state.
Peer reviewers from communities throughout Washington were recruited to read and score applications. One hundred and 12 reviewers were selected from over 200 who expressed interest; 55 percent of these reviewers identified as BIPOC; 84 percent reported having lived experiences/identities connected to BIPOC youth and youth in poverty; and about a dozen youth/young adults were engaged as reviewers. All reviewers were required to participate in anti-bias training and to examine the approach to application review, using the scoring rubric
Small groups of peer reviewers met to discuss and score the applications and provide feedback to School’s Out Washington. In addition to reviewing groups’ recommendations, SOWA also considered equitable representation among disproportionately-impacted populations statewide, and equitable geographic distribution. Final decisions were made in collaboration with Commerce.
“I had the pleasure to be part of the outreach and review process for the Relief Fund with School’s Out Washington. I was impressed with how inclusive the whole process was and appreciated having young people included in grant reviewing. SOWA reached and awarded a wide range of organizations across the state that serve youth furthest from educational justice,” said Luis Gomez, Program Officer, Community Engagement and Youth Leadership, Yakima Valley Community Foundation.
On average, 88 percent of youth served by awardees are in the Relief Fund’s priority populations (including BIPOC, LGBTQ, migrant/immigrant, youth experiencing homelessness and youth in poverty). Forty-eight percebnt of the organizations report that all the youth they serve are among those disproportionately-impacted populations.
“During this unprecedented time of economic uncertainty, social upheaval and growing inequities, the organizations that received these funds have navigated great challenges to provide responsive support and connection for children and youth when they need it most. School’s Out Washington is dedicated to supporting and championing the work of youth development providers. But it was these organizations—in this moment—that demonstrated so clearly their essential role in the ecosystem of support for young people in our state. We hope this influx of financial resources helps them to maintain, recover and ultimately thrive,” School’s Out Washington CEO Elizabeth Whitford said.