YouthSquared Inspires Through Action

Saratoga County-Based Youth Group Finds, Funds & Runs Local Passion Projects

youthsquared toilet paper towers
Youth Leaders David Kelley and Olivia Venditti purchase toilet paper as part of their Community Care Pop-Up event in May 2021. The supplies were donated to Franklin Community Center, Wellspring, Lifeworks/Soup Kitchen and the Saratoga Senior Center to reduce food insecurity.

by Eli King Conklin | September 13, 2021

In Saratoga County, a group of local activists has been hard at work spearheading a remarkable number of projects to give back to those in need. They’ve awarded over 45 grants, started a scholarship, developed a training course, aided a long list of local organizations from Wellspring to Code Blue, and even responded to the pandemic by launching a series of pop-up events to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities. But perhaps more impressive than the contributions they’ve made, is who “they” actually are: a group of Saratoga County youth activists, some as young as 11 years old.

YouthSquared logoIn 2003, Beverly Lazar Davis founded YouthSquared as a way to help encourage youth volunteerism, leadership and social action. Almost two decades later, the group has raised thousands of dollars for charitable organizations, continues to initiate need-based projects locally, and has a working Advisory Board comprised mostly of county residents between the ages of 11 and 22. Their philanthropic work has been recognized by GE and the Northeast Parent and Child Society.

“Our main goal is to help the community,” explains 15-year-old YouthSquared member, Andre Culpepper-Wehr. “My fellow board members and I are able to help other kids and people in need. It is a really awesome opportunity for both sides.”

Andre Culpepper-Wehr of YouthSquared Saratoga with Duane Vaughn Director of Shelters of Saratoga for CDTA Bus Pass Donation 2021
Andre Culpepper-Wehr, who spearheaded a CDTA Bus Pass donation event with YouthSquared, drops off donations to Shelters of Saratoga Director, Duane Vaughn

One of Andre’s passion projects was a CDTA bus pass initiative that raised over $1,100 to provide passes and much needed transportation to four local shelters in the county. “I learned that there are many problems I can actually do something about,” he noted. “It felt really good knowing that something I did helped the community.”

The CDTA event was part of a series of Community Care Pop-Up events that YouthSquared created in March 2021 as a way to continue hands-on service during the pandemic. They’ve since hosted half a dozen different pop-ups to address local needs, with the youth each taking turns in choosing and organizing the events.

“My favorite Pop-Up was our cherry tomato plant giveaway, Tomato, Tomoto, Tomorrow,” says 14-year-old Mackenzie Hamelin. “I was the youth leader, and I definitely learned a lot about the living conditions of others. We donated 100 cherry tomato plants between two locations: Jefferson Terrace and LifeWorks Soup Kitchen. It really opened my eyes to see how other people live, and taught me to take less for granted, since I know now that other people have harder lives than I do.”

"Tomato, Tomoto, Tomorrow"- Cherry Tomato Plant Giveaway. In foreground- Sharon Meyer, Kenzie Hamelin, Jaime Hamlin. In background- Jean Fei, Eliza Krackeler, Ella Daley, and Luna McDermott
YouthSquared’s “Tomato, Tomoto, Tomorrow” cherry tomato plant giveaway.
Foreground: Sharon Meyer, Kenzie Hamelin, Jaime Hamlin.
Background: Jean Fei, Eliza Krackeler, Ella Daley, Luna McDermott.

14-year old Ella Daley says that participating in Community Care Pop-Ups helped her learn how to take on a leadership role. “The ‘Emergency and Safety Kits’ was my favorite event because all the supplies collected went to Rebuilding [Together] Saratoga, and that cause does home repairs and so much more to help make people’s lives better and safer.”

Audrey Belt (left) and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (right) drop off donations for Youth2's Emergency and Safety Kit pop-up event. Youths (from left to right): Kenzie Hamelin, Avery, Olivia Venditti, Ella Daley.
Audrey Belt (left) and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (right) drop off donations for YouthSquared’s Emergency and Safety Kit pop-up event. Youths (from left to right): Kenzie Hamelin, Avery, Olivia Venditti, Ella Daley.

But the beauty of YouthSquared is that young people don’t have to be a member to get their voices heard – the group can award funds to anyone who comes up with a viable project if it’s approved by the board. According to Lazar Davis, most of the grants that have been awarded have actually been to local youths who are not members. She adds that YouthSquared is somewhat of an “unknown secret resource” in the community.

“I think how easy and accessible our resources are would surprise people,” says Olivia Venditti, 15. “We really do just want to provide youth with the resources they need to impact the world, and we always are trying to find ways to help people.”

And clearly, YouthSquared has been hard at work doing just that. Community Care Pop-Ups have benefitted the following organizations and people they serve:

  • The SNACpack Program
  • Franklin Community Center
  • Saratoga Senior Center
  • Shelters of Saratoga
  • Saratoga County Mental Health Center
  • Lifeworks (EOC)
  • Rebuilding Together Saratoga
  • The Mercy House/Albany
  • BEST (Backstretch Employees Service Team) Belmont
  • Women’s Prison Association
  • Wellspring
  • Soup Kitchen
  • Jefferson Terrace
  • Troy Oakwood Community Center Food Pantry
  • Wellspring

Any youths with an idea they’d like to propose are encouraged to fill out a grant application at Ideas should be something you are passionate about, something that will inspire others to help, and something that fills a need or cause.

“Seeing people being so thankful and appreciative for the donations and knowing that they’re actively being distributed to people in need really impacted me and made me want to find other ways to positively impact my community,” says 15-year-old Luna McDermott, who is pictured below participating in a sanitary hygiene supplies drive.

Community Care Pop-UP Event- Sanitary Hygiene Supplies Drive Olivia Venditti, Luna McDermott- Youth Leader, Andre Culpepper-Wehr
From left to right: Olivia Venditti, Luna McDermott & Andre Culpepper-Wehr run a sanitary hygiene supplies drive as part of their Community Care Pop-Up series

“I feel like I’m part of the solution,” says Eliza Krackeler, 15, of serving on YouthSquared’s Advisory Board. “Working with other youth who are motivated to help our world has inspired me to become a better person.”

You can learn more about YouthSquared, their upcoming events, grants, and make a donation at Donations are used to help seed youth projects, fund Community Care Pop-Up events, and to support their Community Service Incentive Scholarship Award.


Here’s what YouthSquared has in store for fall:

♦ September 29, 2021: Benefit Concert at Caffe Lena ♦
“Songs For Social Action” from 7-9PM (also being livestreamed) featuring Scott Cook. Proceeds will benefit YouthSquared and All Hands and Hearts: an organization that meets immediate and long-term needs of global natural disasters. Details

♦ October 2, 2021: Composting Challenge with Sustainable Saratoga ♦
YouthSquared is joining with Sustainable Saratoga during Saratoga Recycles Day to host a “Community Composting Challenge.” They will be giving out educational materials and stainless steel kitchen compost bins with charcoal filters for people who want to begin separating food scraps in their homes. The food scraps can be brought with no charge to Wednesday and Saturday Farmers Markets weekly. Separating food scraps and not having them go to our landfill is the 3rd best thing you can easily do to reduce the greenhouse gases in our world.

♦ November (TBD): Grateful Grains Cereal Box Collection ♦
Right before Thanksgiving they will host a cereal box collection for local food distribution. Details to come.

♦ December (TBD): Shovel Collection Drive ♦
YouthSquared is planning a “Sharing Shovels” collection drive to get shovels to those in need of them for the winter season. Details to come.

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