This post was written by Lindsey Roberts and Lauren Scanelli on behalf of the Case Foundation:
The Neutral Zone — a place created by teens for teens so they could socialize, learn, teach and grow in a safe space — was named one of the winners of the 2013 Independent Sector Pitch Competition hosted by the Case Foundation. By using innovative youth-driven ideas to help inspire creativity and leadership, the Neutral Zone creates a diverse place that focuses on positive outcomes through participation in meaningful decision-making, mentorship and reflection. We followed up with this dynamic group of young changemakers in the Ann Arbor, Michigan community to learn what the future looks like for this thriving group that has hosted more than 13,000 teens throughout the 2012 to 2013 school year. Lynne Chaimowitz, Finance and Operations Director of Neutral Zone, shares with us more about their projects and future plans to provide a positive place for teens to expand their horizons.
CF: What goals are you working towards at the organization? How will the Case Foundation’s award help you achieve that goal?
LC: The Neutral Zone was founded by teens to provide a venue for needed social, cultural, educational, recreational, and creative opportunities for local high school teens. The mission was written by youth and continues to be the voice and heart which drives the center’s creative program opportunities–to provide a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas. The Neutral Zone is open to provide youth-driven program opportunities. Our program goals focus on positive developmental outcomes that engage youth in meaningful decision-making, mentorship, leadership building and opportunities for reflection. The pitch that I made for funding was to expand beyond our pilot Youth Driven Spaces initiative–a project that was started to develop and support opportunities for older youth to authentically lead programs and share in their organizational governance. The Case Foundation’s funds will enable us to develop and refine our approach of intensive coaching and consulting of both adults and teens to implement a change in culture within their organizations.
Currently, we are working with schools that are committed to having youth in meaningful leadership roles, such as sitting on their Board of Directors. We would like to expand this past a pilot program and be able to evaluate what we have seen anecdotally, which we are very excited to share. We want to work to give adults the tools they need to let go and allow teens to be themselves–capable developing leaders. Youth Driven Spaces creates a supportive place for teens and adults to work together for common goals and allows for positive youth development along the way. The funds from the Case Foundation will provide much-needed resources for our organization.
CF: What fearless approaches have you implemented in your own life since you have won?
LC: Just getting in front of a group of other nonprofit leaders and speaking certainly got me out of my bubble! This also gave me time to reflect on what I do from an outside perspective. I have really tried to experiment and say ‘yes’ more often.
CF: Can you give me a moment in history or a person who was fearless and truly inspired you?
LC: I am a big fan of thinking globally and acting locally. This is personified in a local philanthropic leader in my community, Molly Dobson, who inspires me. Although she is not a ‘big historical name’, everyone in our community has been impacted by her fearless advocacy for the women and youth in our community. She is generous, kind, and adventurous. From cracking codes during World War II for the Navy, to now being an active volunteer with Ann Arbor area teens at the age of 90, she has had a lasting impact on the Neutral Zone and myself. As a woman who would let nothing hold her back and who actively and openly engages to make a better community, I hope to have as much impact as she has had in her life.
CF: What can other leaders in the community, like you, implement in their thinking to travel on a fearless path? What is your one piece of advice to them?
LC: From the pitch experience, I realized how important it is to reach beyond your comfort zone and keep searching for answers. Had I never put in the application, I would have never received the great advice from other NGen colleagues and the transformative opportunity to pitch. Often you are surrounded by the same people you know and are comfortable with, but to change the community, you have to reach beyond your bubble.