Generator Z Announces $4 Million+ in Grants in Response to 1,000 Teen-generated Ideas Reimagining Afterschool Programs

More than 90 providers across Southeast Michigan and Western New York receive funding to turn ‘Gen Z’ insight into community action;  

Initiative supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation
represents new approach to philanthropy

DETROIT – Generator Z, an ideas platform that launched in 2020 for teens to reimagine the future of afterschool, today announced 93 grants totaling $4,093,181 for nonprofit afterschool providers serving teens in Southeast Michigan and Western New York. Generator Z is an innovative philanthropic initiative driven by teens and powered by Lakeshore Connections with support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. Grants ranging between $10,000 and $100,000 were awarded to providers with the strongest teen-centered afterschool ideas.

“Often teens are told that they can’t really have a voice, but Generator Z did the opposite. It got me out of my comfort zone which is good because I usually like to stay in my own bubble. I shared my own story and then saw afterschool providers do an amazing job responding to Generator insights,” said Zoey L., a 14-year-old ‘Generator’ from Western New York. “They developed and pitched programs that sounded fun and could help motivate more teens to join afterschool programs. I like the way that providers took specific examples from a teen’s story and then showed how it impacted or inspired their program.”

“To actually have influence over afterschool opportunities was really important. A wise person once told me to never trust someone who says they work in your best interest but never invites your opinion,” added Charles D. age 18, of Southeast Michigan. “The participation of so many teens of so many different ages and places built trust and led to these grants. When I helped select grantees, I paid attention to language and how they spoke to me. That really helps me believe in an organization and what they have to offer.”

In late 2020, more than 1,000 teen “Generators” across Southeast Michigan and Western New York (the Foundation’s two regions of focus) were invited to share their vision for the future of afterschool on In January 2021, their stories were published on the public platform, providing these 13- to 18-year-olds with a podium during a time when their everyday lives were disrupted by a global pandemic, racial injustice, and political tension. Nonprofit afterschool providers were then invited to apply for grants that responded to the Generators’ stories. A committee of teens, adult allies and near-peers served as judges to recommend and prioritize grant support. Over three-phases of engagement, teen “Generators” are collecting up to $1,000 for their participation, valuing them as the ultimate experts of their own lives.


“Generator Z is nothing without the teens that drive it. They are at the center of every decision,” explained Generator Z Initiative Director Abir Ali. “They collaborated in its design, set the tone through their story contributions, and provided a reality check on afterschool provider ideas. They took full ownership of this public platform and made sure that those applying for grants were listening to teens. From the beginning, the demand for teens to be heard for what they genuinely had to say was non-negotiable. They used this lens to ultimately select the most relevant and responsive afterschool ideas and opportunities.”

The Generator Z initiative is also noteworthy for a level of transparency that is atypical of foundations and their grantmaking processes. By having teens – the ultimate targets of the grant funding – at the core, organizers have in a sense flipped the traditional philanthropy model upside down.

The Generators’ stories and ideas centered around 10 teen-generated themes from an earlier process. Grants were awarded as follows:

  • Creative Arts & Culture: 19 providers/$840,754
  • Jobs & Careers: 13 providers/$715,560
  • Friends & Community: 15 providers/$694,975
  • Mental, Social & Emotional Health: 10 providers/$477,415
  • Identity & Acceptance: 13 providers/$469,310
  • Excellence in Learning: 8 providers/$328,413
  • Play & Sports: 5 providers/$212,000
  • Life Skills & Balance: 5 providers/$186,900
  • Growth & Wellness: 3 providers/$92,857
  • Fun & Games: 2 providers/$75,000

“We were inspired to see such a wide spectrum of organizations participate in Generator Z and engage with teen stories, especially given the uncertainty and challenges throughout the pandemic,” said Amber Slichta, Vice President of Programs with the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. “The heart of this initiative is to create more opportunities for teens outside of school that reflect what teens want. Taking cues from teens all along the way and the nonprofits that are skilled at teen engagement, we built a grantmaking initiative on those best practices to amplify and expand the reach of teen voices, while providing nonprofits with the support and resources to make afterschool ideas come to life.” 

For the full list of grants, visit and search by “2021 Grantees.” Each will have one year to bring their afterschool ideas to life. Generators have completed their first two steps of catalyzing the initiative with their stories and feedback on afterschool providers’ ideas. They will return in early 2022 to check on grantee progress and close out their contributions to the Generator Z project.

For behind-the-scene insight into Generator Z, watch our 10-minute highlights video here

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.’s devotion to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his Buffalo Bills franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue his life-long generosity of spirit by funding the Foundation that bears his name. Based in Detroit, the Foundation has a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires January 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Mr. Wilson’s desire for the Foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information visit

Lakeshore Connections is a non-profit charitable corporation that supports Community Connections of New York (CCNY). The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has partnered with CCNY in the past for initiatives like STEM 2035. Lakeshore is a grant-issuing body to fund organizations closely aligned with its mission to provide human-services programs that improve and protect communities’ emotional health and welfare, supporting the physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of children and families. CCNY provides training, analysis and strategic development services to 501(c)(3) human services agencies to help them improve their programming and increase public benefit. CCNY originally provided its services in Western New York and is expanding its activity throughout New York State and Michigan with support from Lakeshore Connections. More at

Media Contacts:

Kelci Hobson,, 973-886-3839

Carly Strachan,, 313-460-8100