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United Way Blog

Empowering A Community’s Youngest Change Agents

When Sophie Torosian was 10, she loved animals. As a Junior Girl Scout working on her Bronze Award, she wanted to use her passion to help community members who were adopting pets from the Humane Society in Racine, Wisconsin. To get started, Sophie rallied the members of Girl Scout Troop 5754 to apply for a Youth As Resources (YAR) grant from United Way of Racine County.

YAR operates as an investment committee of United Way and funds youth-led, youth-designed community service and service learning projects. Grant proposals are reviewed by the YAR board, a volunteer committee comprised of 75% youth and 25% adults. Since 1996, Youth As Resources has funded 409 community service projects totaling over $275,000.

The girls planned their project, created a budget and successfully presented their project idea to the YAR board. They used their $734 grant to make handmade pet beds to be used by animals awaiting adoption and create pet care kits to ensure adoptive families had basic supplies for their new furry family members. Through the project, the girls reported they improved their planning and decision making skills, writing skills and self-confidence.

Three years later, Sophie returned to YAR with a new project proposal: she wanted to create 90 handmade pillowcases for HALO, a homeless shelter in Racine. Her efforts would provide people transitioning into permanent housing with a unique piece of bedding for their new homes. After receiving a $910 grant, Sophie selected fabrics with bright colors and prints and got to work. She individually packaged each pillowcase and created a catalog so that those in need could “shop” for the perfect design.

One woman who received a pillowcase said, “Each night I will lay my head down and remember that someone thought enough of me and my situation to create such a beautiful thing. My rest will be more peaceful because of this pillowcase.”

After two successful YAR projects, Sophie, now 17, joined the YAR board to help other kids fulfill their dreams of helping others. As a board member, Sophie attends monthly meetings, reviews grant applications and considers project presentations. She helps make funding recommendations to invest YAR dollars in projects that will positively impact Racine County.

After seven years of participating in YAR and helping countless community members in some way, Sophie shares, “I really am inspired by people striving to fix problems in our community. I’m proud to have been a grant recipient, and a board member!”