Florida Teen Uplifts Youth Through Writing

Daily Point of Light # 7821 May 28, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Banks Vadeboncoeur. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

Banks Vadeboncoeur has been a creative writer since kindergarten. Growing up, she would spend hours crafting short stories and novels, which eventually led to a love of journalism. In her middle school journalism class, Banks entered a competition called the C-Span StudentCam Competition. The prompt was to create a documentary focused on a national issue that the President should be concerned about. Since this was during COVID, Banks was not able to do in-person interviews but used C-Span footage as well as Zoom interviews with doctors and other medical professionals to explore the topic of racial inequality in the healthcare system. Her work earned Banks third place and sparked a passion for activism and making a change through journalism and opinion pieces. For several years, she was one of only a few youth contributors to local publications. 

Combining her passion for helping and her passion for writing led to the creation of Young Voices for Change (YVC), which she founded at age 15 as an online publication and advocacy group exclusively by and for youth. YVC promotes the development of young activists and writers, especially those whose voices often go unheard, by giving them a space to share their opinions on current events and global issues. In addition to the online aspect of the nonprofit, YVC leads multiple in-person workshops that focus on underserved Florida children as well as other initiatives to drive change in the community. 

What inspires you to volunteer? 

Volunteering is important because it’s so gratifying; in fact, more so than anything I’ve ever done. It gives my life meaning, especially when I’m working with kids or empowering young people. 

Tell us about your volunteer role. 

I use storytelling and media to inspire change. I am the founder and executive director of YVC. My primary responsibilities include overseeing our organization’s operations and initiatives including managing our online publication and advocacy group, curating and maintaining our website, leading fundraising efforts, and coordinating YVC projects such as the Young Writers Workshop. 

Banks Vadeboncoeur speaks about her organization, Young Voices for Change./Courtesy Banks Vadeboncoeur

I am the sole editor of the YVC platform. Reading entries from around the world deeply moves me, as they showcase the courage and compassion of my generation. Our contributors write about transgender rights, mental health, climate change, gender-based violence, and other current issues. We have featured content from over a hundred young contributors globally. Our reach is significant. We have had 10,000 website visitors and 150,000 social media views.      

Outside of YVC, I am a video editor for MediaWise, an organization that promotes media literacy. I have edited several episodes of the “How2 Internet” series for PBS and the Fact-Checking Network’s “Is This Legit?” series. I also conducted and presented research as a research fellow at the UCLA Center for Scholars & Storytellers, where I studied the impact of entertainment media on young audiences.     

An important part of my work at YVC is to develop and lead the Young Writers Workshop, catered for underserved first through fifth graders in Jacksonville, Florida. The workshops are held twice every summer, each one week long, with half-day sessions so we can accommodate more students. I create the entire curriculum, inspired by my favorite lessons and activities from my childhood, and I am the head instructor. Other volunteers sit with the students and serve as a helping hand as I teach the workshop. At the end of the program, each child writes and illustrates their own short story, which is then published, printed and delivered to them.  

Our kids come from a charter school system in Jacksonville. Due to the city’s demographics, a majority of the workshop participants are African American children living in financially unstable households. Since school is out, most of these kids have to be away from home during the summer so they can be supervised. The Young Writers Workshop is not only a safe space, it’s an opportunity for them to find their voices and shine. The kids have a lot of freedom to explore when it comes to their writing, as my goal is for them to use their imagination and have fun doing so. Many get so invested in creating their short stories that they discover a new love for writing. Many try to come back the next year.    

YVC also conducts a Holiday Drive where we deliver gifts and meals to underserved families during the holidays. We have raised over $10,000 with support from community sponsors.    

We also hold a Fast Fashion Clothing Swap. This is a fun event where members in the community come together and swap gently-used clothes. It’s also an opportunity to speak about the environmental impact of fast fashion and advocate for sustainability.     

As our cultural and political landscape evolves, our YVC projects also adapt, reflecting the ongoing changes in our world. 

What are your long-term plans or goals for Young Voices for Change? 

Right now, our online publication is fueled solely by global contributors and staff writers.  

We have a YVC chapter in both Florida and California, where members meet often and contribute multiple pieces each month. I would love to see YVC expand nationally!    

In addition, we continue to host the Young Writers Workshop, which began the summer of 2022. This is a youth-led summer program in Jacksonville, Florida in which each child from an underserved school writes and illustrates their own short story, which is then published. We hold a red carpet publishing event/book signing party where the kids receive their own hardcover books. This is funded by the Riley’s Way Foundation as part of their Call for Kindness competition. So far, we’ve benefitted nearly 100 underserved children in grades 1-5. I would love to see many more kids spread their wings as writers and artists.    

At the beginning of 2024, YVC held a scholarship competition called Ink 4 Impact for juniors and seniors from Title 1 high schools. The prompt was to write or create art about global issues and current events. The winner received a $1,000 scholarship to be used for their education endeavors, with the prize money fully funded by YVC’s sustainable clothing line. All non-winners’ works were also published on the YVC website. 

Banks Vadeboncoeur, back left corner, at the book signing party for session three of the Young Writers Workshop./Courtesy Banks Vadeboncoeur

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

I am continually awed by the creativity I see in youth of all ages. For example, “Confidence” was written by a Young Writers Workshop student named Mariah, who shared her experience with overcoming bullying; I love to see these kids blossom through writing. 

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

As a volunteer, I’ve learned about the reciprocal nature of helping others and how volunteering has motivated me to be a change-maker. It’s my passion and hobby. I find myself doing a lot less social media scrolling, video games and other typical teen stuff. The nature of giving back grows exponentially. The more I do it, the more I want to do it. I truly see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I want my career to go in the direction of change-making, as I love it so deeply. 

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about. 

We have more sessions of the Young Writers Workshop coming up this summer. Since 2022, we’ve hosted multiple summer workshops each year, making this summer our fourth and fifth sessions. We also have another Fast Fashion Clothing Swap coming up on June 5. 

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering? 

Finding your groove may take starting in an “obvious” volunteering role like working in a food bank or animal shelter. Eventually as you meet people, you will gravitate toward a volunteer opportunity that’s aligned with your passion. Good comes from all volunteering, but once you find a spark, there are a lot of resources online that can help you move in that direction. Look for communities aligned with your interests. For me, it was the journalism community and the change-making community. You can even Google “volunteer opportunities near me.” High schoolers have access to a lot of resources in school, but the community at large can visit their local library where there will be a bulletin board with ways to help locally. 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

Age does not hold anyone back. I’m not too young to write a newspaper article, lead a camp or start an organization. The teen years are a time of self-discovery and if you find a passion, go for it. I’ve found amazing people through this journey. I was nervous when leading my first workshop but I was so glad I pushed through and the experience was amazing! Nobody expects perfection. They’re just glad you’re willing to step up and help! 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Banks? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Jarmila Gorman