Young activist Ava Santos-Volpe, age 12, is a girl on a mission. While working on a class leadership project two years ago, Ava asked a youth homelessness advocate to visit her school to discuss Chicago's youth housing crisis. After learning more, Ava decided she needed to help but didn't know how. That summer, while on a family trip to Florida, she spotted a parking meter collecting coins to donate to a homeless shelter. Something clicked.
Santos-Volpe had always aspired to be like her LGBTQ activist moms, Theresa and Mercedes. "All my life, my moms influenced me to make a difference, to try and help people," she says.
Santos-Volpe was moved to connect with Pride Action Tank, a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ), and multimedia artist Sam Kirk. Together, they created Ava's Change4Youth, an art mentorship program that raises awareness of youth homelessness — a problem that disproportionately affects LGBTQ teens.
Now Santos-Volpe and her family have teamed up with AFC to enter Ava's Change4Youth into the USA Today Network's grant program, A Community Thrives. The online competition invites members of the community to view Santos-Volpe's video and vote up to once per day to help her compete for a $50,000 or $100,000 award.
If she wins, Santos-Volpe plans to use the money to kick off the project, which will:
* Pair participating youth with prominent artists to transform repurposed parking meters into captivating public art pieces. Artist mentors will work with youth to help them create a personalized meter representing their own journey
* Install meters as donation stations across the city, collecting coins to be disbursed among local nonprofit groups
* Collect more change through "art house" boxes, painted by youth and positioned in retail businesses
* Empower youth by placing them on an advisory board to decide how collected funds will be allocated. While actively working to problem-solve, young people will be encouraged to share their stories, develop leadership skills and build a sense of community
Ava's Change4Youth goes beyond helping teens find a place to live to create a ripple effect that impacts their holistic health and well-being. "Faced with no other options, more than 20,000 young adults and students in Chicago are looking for a home, not just overnight shelter," says John Peller, AFC's President/CEO. AFC cares deeply about helping them get back on their feet and giving them opportunities to succeed."
To watch the video and vote for Ava's Change4Youth, visit act.usatoday.com/submit-an-idea/ .
About the AIDS Foundation of Chicago: AFC mobilizes communities to create equity and justice for people living with and vulnerable to HIV and related chronic diseases. AFC aspires to create a world in which people living with HIV and related chronic diseases will thrive, and new HIV infections will be rare. More at: aidschicago.org .