Did you ever spend an afternoon making macaroni picture frames with a bunch of other children, or playing a game of Go Fish sitting in a circle of bean bags on the floor of the local youth center? Or maybe you got help with homework or played kickball in the center's backyard. Youth centers are places where children can gather – typically for free – and enjoy a variety of activities.

What Are Youth Centers

Youth centers are often in underserved neighborhoods with the goal of helping keep children busy and off the streets after school. However, youth centers also serve a wide variety of communities and come in many different iterations. One thing they share is that they are always nonprofit organizations in need of grants for support.

Why They Need Money

Youth centers need money to support their programs and pay their staff unless they use a volunteer staff, as they aren't able to collect enough from parents. As nonprofits, they are considered tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) as public charities because they are formed to provide a public benefit. Youth centers often rely on grants for support, and they seek money from many diverse sources.

Sources for Grant Money

The Corporation for National Community and Service provides information on several groups that offer grant opportunities for "at-risk" youth, including:

  • Allstate Foundation
  • Hasbro Children's Fund
  • Janus Foundation
  • Open Society Institute: Criminal Justice
  • Ralph and Eileen Swett Foundation

Grant Watch is another good site for finding youth-center funding. This organization lists a variety of grants available from states for youth programs, at-risk youth, youth shelters and more.

For example, the site currently lists grant opportunities in Florida for nonprofits and government organizations serving children and families in a particular county. Grants in Oregon are available for arts programs. It is important to research what grants fit your youth center's specific needs.

What to Include in a Grant Proposal

If you are running a youth center or if you oversee finding funding, it is important to understand how to put together a grant proposal. If you do not have a writer on staff, it is a good idea to hire a professional to write your proposal. Here are the key elements of a standard grant proposal:

1. Proposal Summary: Sometimes called the Executive Summary, this one-to-three sentence paragraph should explain your entire proposal in a nutshell and specifically state the amount of funding you need.
2. Description and History of Your Organization: This should be between one and four pages and will include who you are, what you do and where you do it.
3. Background or Statement of the Problem: In two to five pages, explain what the problem is that will be solved by getting this grant. Make clear why your program is more important than other programs.
4. Project Description: This can vary in length and should be a detailed description of the program you intend to create with this grant money.
5. Project and Budget Timeline: This is a chronological list of what needs to happen and how the funding will facilitate each step.
6. Budget: Break the project down into categories such as salaries, rent, equipment, etc., and list the amounts that will be allocated to each category.

Once your proposal is written, reviewed and edited to perfection, you are ready to send it off and apply for a grant. Because there are so many worthy programs in need of funding, it's wise to apply for as many grants as you can. Cover all your bases to make sure you can fund your youth center and its programs.