Seattle, WA Today, Rhizome and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced a $620,000 initiative aimed at creating a new Civic Service Fellowship program in Washington high schools. This three-year initiative will establish over 100 teams of Fellows in hyperlocal Chapters across the state of Washington. Rhizomes Civic Service Fellowship prioritizes rural communities, under-resourced areas, and communities of color.
The Civic Service Fellowship will empower high school students to lead year-round initiatives designed to boost civic engagement within their schools and communities. This will include organizing community events, educating younger students about democracy, and assisting their eligible peers with voter registration or pre-registration. Students have the opportunity to mend divisions, combat disengagement, and address the mental health crisis by creating civic communities. By inviting students to gain leadership experience and build healthy habits based on who they want to become, Rhizome inspires responsibility and produces pathways for lifelong leadership and public engagement.
Civic participation can be an important factor for young peoples social and mental well-being. Recent research from Gallup has found that less than half of Gen Z members feel as though they are thriving and only 44% feel prepared for their future. While 76% of young people across the country believe their age group has the power to enact change, only 40% of all youthand only 34% of youth of colorreport feeling well-qualified to participate in politics. In an era marked by diminishing public trust and worsening mental health outcomes among young people, this initiative will equip students with the tools to engage their communities in building a healthier world for all.
After 90 of us came together as Co-Founders of Rhizome just two years ago, we are thrilled to announce this multi-year partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, addressing the need for sustainable systems that empower emerging leaders to shape change, said Jacob Merkle, Rhizomes CEO. In an era of unmet challenges to our civic and mental health, this collaboration allows Rhizome to scale our grassroots system, deepen our impact, and build collective power for young people. Were grateful for the Foundation's recognition that young people are the future. We hope this early commitment will spur philanthropy to provide more scale-enabling, no-strings-attached funding for young people to create the safer, happier, and healthier world they deserve.
Witnessing the growth of Rhizome from day one has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. Not simply the growth of the organization, but the tangible difference that has been made in the confidence of countless students. As an organizer in Washington, my proudest moment is seeing the transformation in students as they gain their voice to fearlessly advocate for their own beliefs, said Hiba Siddiqui, a Rhizome Regional Organizer who works in Eastern Washington. Having the support of partners like the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation reaffirms our mission and gives us the resources to expand our reach. I am excited to see the indelible impact that will be made as Rhizome brings our community of trust, friendship, and belonging to other areas in Washington.
Civic education is necessary now more than ever. Our civic landscape has shifted and testifies to the urgency to actively involve youth in bettering their communities and solving societal issues. As a committed civic educator for over two decades, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have partners in this mission, said Jen Reidel, a Social Studies and English teacher at Bellingham High School. I can provide classroom experiences, but I need like–minded civic organizations like Rhizome to help students find their civic identities and mission outside the classroom.
According to Ms. Reidel, Rhizome removes the responsibility of supporting a student club outside of class from the teacher and places it on the students and their Rhizome mentor. It honors student agency and diversity by equipping students to promote civic engagement within their school and identify issues they would like to address at a local level and authentically work toward their solution.
Funds from the partnership will directly support student-led efforts by paying a dedicated team of Rhizomes student organizers in Washington, who will work to implement the Civic Service Fellowship in local schools in their communities. By funding this important work, Rhizome and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation are investing deeply in the next generation of lifelong civic leaders.
Founded in 2021, Rhizome is a national network of student leaders organizing to empower young people to build stronger communities. Rhizome was co-founded by 90 young people to help students become more civically active while training the next generation of organizers and emerging leaders. Learn more at www.werhize.org.
About the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
Founded in 1988 by philanthropists Jody Allen and the late Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, the foundation invests in communities across the Pacific Northwest to enhance the human experience of arts & culture, center under-served populations, and mobilize young people to make impact. In addition, the foundation supports a global portfolio of nonprofit partners working across science and technology solutions to protect wildlife, preserve ocean health, and create lasting change. The foundation also funds the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which works to advance cutting-edge research in all areas of bioscience.
Maya Rodriguez, Communications Director
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Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
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