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Home / Creative Youth Development / YouthReach / Application Process


Application Process

Through YouthReach, multi-year grants are awarded to creative youth development programs that integrate substantive out-of-school arts, humanities, and science opportunities into a collaborative community response to the needs of youth.

The most recent YouthReach panels reviewed applications in June 2022. We are currently working to revise the program to create more frequent on-ramps for new applicants. Please be in touch with program staff with any question about applying to YouthReach in the future.

Learn More About YouthReach


Questions? Contact Erik Holmgren.


FY23 Program Guidelines

Program Description

For more than 25 years, YouthReach has promoted the integration of substantive out-of-school arts, humanities, and science opportunities into a collaborative response to the needs of young people and communities. YouthReach programs work best when they are youth-driven and when young people are offered opportunities to both widen and deepen their skills in creativity, self-discovery, collaboration, belonging, leadership and advocacy for change. We also support creative youth development programs in holding space to address systemic inequities while working with young people to be creative forces for positive change in their own lives and in their communities.

Applicant Eligibility

Who can apply?

  • Massachusetts nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations
  • Massachusetts K-12 schools with ensemble-based music programs
  • Programs of state or federal government in Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts public colleges/universities
  • Applicants using a fiscal agent: Massachusetts-based unincorporated group/association with a nonprofit objective, or a Massachusetts-based corporation in the process of obtaining a 501(c)3 designation.
    • A fiscal agent can either be a municipal entity, a nonprofit entity incorporated in Massachusetts, or registered as a foreign corporation doing business in Massachusetts. If you are considering using a fiscal agent, you are encouraged to talk with Mass Cultural Council staff before you submit an application.
  • FY22 SerHacer program grant recipients.

Program Eligibility

What makes a program eligible or ineligible?

  • The proposed youth programming must be primarily arts, humanities, or interpretive sciences.
  • Proposed programs must take place after-school or out-of-school, except ensemble-based music programs, which can occur during school hours.
  • K-12 school applicants may only submit applications for ensemble-based music programs. No other disciplines or programs are eligible from K-12 schools.
  • Programs should see themselves in this definition: creative youth development (CYD) is a commitment to supporting young people’s stories, ideas, and dreams through creative expression and honoring their lived experiences. In order to create environments that promote creative youth development, these three concepts must be present: racial equity and social justice, youth voices, and collective action.

Rules Pertaining to Multiple Proposals: In any single Mass Cultural Council fiscal year (July 1 – June 30), an organization may be the primary applicant for only one YouthReach grant application and a fiscal sponsor for only one YouthReach application. However, an organization may be the primary applicant on one project and collaborate on others.  YouthReach funding does not preclude organizations from applying to other Mass Cultural Council programs for which they meet eligibility requirements.

Grant Categories

In 2019, YouthReach was redesigned through a three-day Kaizen process that involved current grantees, teaching staff, and alums of YouthReach programs. As a result of that redesign, Mass Cultural Council is accepting YouthReach applications in three different categories. All grantees receive the same award amount but have differing application requirements:

  1. New (Applicants or programs that were not funded through YouthReach or SerHacer in FY22.)

Application Requirements: Full application, logic model, and interview or site visit.
Reporting Requirements: Final report due in July of each year.

  1. Returning (Programs that have been funded between three and nine consecutive years.)

Application Requirements: Full application, logic model, and interview or site visit.
Reporting Requirements: Final report due in July of each year.

  1. Partners (Programs that have been funded for nine or more years.)

Application Requirements: Application is not required so long as programs have not had a significant change to program design and staffing. Off-cycle, non-evaluative site visits.
Reporting Requirements: Final report due in July of each year.

Application Components

Applicants should consider the various components of the application to be a package that provides an opportunity to tell the story of the program through the following components:

  1. Narrative responses to application questions in the online application.
  2. Logic model provides panelists an overview of the program relevant to each evaluation category. Will be uploaded as part of the online application.
  3. Information on staff, curriculum, program design, and evaluation provides panelists with a detailed overview of the activities young people will engage in, as well as the supports and structures that organizations have in running and assessing their programs. Will be uploaded and entered into the online application.
  4. Fiscal management and detailed project budget provides panelists with an understanding of programmatic expenses. Will be uploaded as part of the online application.
  5. Interview and site visit report – Interviews and site visits  are scheduled after applications are submitted. The report is generated by the panelist who participates in the interview or visits the site. This report provides panelists with a starting point for panel deliberations.

Review Criteria  

YouthReach proposals will be reviewed using the following criteria:

  1. Community Need and Participation (15 points)
  2. Youth Voice and Community Engagement (20 points)
  3. Quality of Program Design (40 points)
  4. Program Evaluation (15 points)
  5. Fiscal Management (10 points)

Each of the five criteria are defined below with examples of evidence of quality.

Community Need and Participation (15 points)

Documented need among the young people for whom this program is designed and documented lack of access to similar opportunities within this community for this population.

  • Application documents that youth face personal and/or systemic challenges such as violence in their homes or neighborhoods, poverty, gentrification, immigration status, disability, or mental illness. Beyond the proposed program, participants lack support and resources in their homes or communities; few other arts/humanities/science resources are accessible to this target population (New programs should document the challenges and risk factors for intended participants. Returning applicants should document the challenges and risk factors for current participants).
  • This program evolved from discussions with young people and their community. Participants are recruited from this community. Barriers to program participation are thoroughly addressed (such as prohibitive participation fees or lengthy or intimidating application or audition processes). Solutions have been found to address transportation and environmental issues. Participation is not limited to highly talented or easily engaged youth.

Youth Voice and Community Engagement (20 points)

YOUTH VOICE: Evidence that the voice of young people and their input is valued. (15 points)

  • The program works to help youth feel seen and heard and utilizes the arts, humanities, and sciences as a vehicle for social change.
  • The organization actively works to enhance the leadership of youth and alumni.
  • Youth learn to effectively critique their own work and the work of others by acting as peer mentors.
  • Young people gain skills in advocating for their needs and the needs of their community members.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Evidence that the organization is listening to the needs of the broader community and engaging them to be involved in responding to the needs of participants. (5 points)

  • The project coordinates with other youth-serving, cultural, and community organizations and/or efforts within the community to address the needs of young people and their communities.
  • Current youth, alumni, and families provide input for programming and may be involved in decision-making in the organization.

Quality of Program Design (40 points)

LEADERSHIP: Evidence of strength of leadership of instructional staff and excellence in the design of curriculum. (10 points)

  • Staff have received adequate and appropriate training to meet students’ developmental needs.
  • Instructors have strong experience as professionals in their field (as performers/presenters, are respected in their field, have appropriate training in their discipline) and have strengths as educators (have significant experience with the target population, demonstrate pedagogical skills that fuse arts, humanities, or science learning and youth development). Adult mentors and teachers reflect the diversity of the communities with whom the organization engages.
  • Instructors have access to appropriate resources within and outside the organization to address issues beyond the current program or staff capacity.
  • The curriculum is clear, relevant, and engaging with ties to the indicators of the logic model.

CREATE: Evidence that the program design creates opportunities for young people to develop their cognitive, creative, and artistic skills as they design strategies for artistic action and pursue learning in multiple domains that help them answer the question, “What can I do?” (10 points)

  • The program provides a pathway and appropriate scaffolding for young people to have agency and support in achieving their best work. They gain artistic and expressive skills and strengthen their skills in innovation, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
  • The program, teachers, and partners set high expectations for participation, growth, learning, and presenting. As a result of the program, young people excel in the discipline and/or techniques taught and inform where and how they wish to share their work.

CONNECT: Evidence that the program design provides pathways for young people to strengthen their personal and social identity as they answer, “Who am I and where do I belong?” (10 points)

  • The program provides appropriate scaffolding for young people that strengthens their personal and social identity as they better understand themselves and build meaningful relationships with other youth, the program staff, and the community.
  • Through the sharing of stories and creativity of those who have been traditionally marginalized and left out of the cultural narrative conversation, young people effectively partner to begin to address and disrupt inequitable systems.
  • Program operates as part of or is actively developing a holistic community of support for young people rather than one isolated from other programs and services.  Participants, teachers, artists, and appropriate collaborators play a meaningful role in the planning process both in designing the program and throughout its implementation.

CATALYZE: Evidence that the program design supports young people to catalyze change in their lives and communities and answer the question, “How can I contribute?” (10 points)

  • Program encourages sustained, long-term involvement by participating young people and offers them expanding opportunities as they progress. Program design also includes frequent performances or culminating events, giving young people an opportunity to have their community understand them better and further value their work.
  • Young people become skilled in using the arts, sciences, or humanities, and communications media as tools to exert their voice and influence and also as a way to connect to issues that matter to them, better understand the larger systems, and use their cultural expression to effect change. Programs offer opportunities for young people to better understand and create social change.

Program Evaluation (15 points)

Effectiveness of plan to document and evaluate the program’s impact on participating young people.

  • Each data point in program evaluation is linked to an outcome area in the Logic Model. These indicators help staff understand the experience of youth, measure impact, and aid the development of improvements to the program.
  • When possible, youth/alums offer insights into the design and/or the results of the evaluation. Staff have access to and may participate in analyzing data and assessing program improvements.
  • An investment in adequate time, staffing, and money are made in order to help create and manage the evaluation and assessment systems.

Fiscal Management (10 points)

Soundness of fiscal management, including diversity and reliability of financial support

  • Program and organization have the capacity to successfully implement the program during the three-year grant period.
  • Budgeted income and expenses align with the proposed activities, staffing, and schedule.
  • Organization has the capacity to meet the match requirements of the grant.
  • Projected funding is sufficiently diverse; the proposed program’s fate is not reliant on any one funding source.

Review Procedures & Funding Decisions

After the application deadline, Mass Cultural Council staff review applications for eligibility. During the eligibility review staff will confirm that the proposed program incorporates this definition of CYD. Ineligible applications are removed from consideration.

The remaining applications are passed on to a panel of independent reviewers to conduct site visits or phone interviews and evaluate applications according to the review criteria. Panels are comprised of organizational leadership and staff, teaching artists/scientists, YouthReach alums, and other youth development specialists who represent diverse geographic, ethnic, philosophical, and aesthetic perspectives.

Panelists evaluate applications and make funding recommendations to the Mass Cultural Council’s governing council. The Council considers these recommendations in the context of the agency’s available funds and makes all final funding decisions. For details on the decision-making process, see the timeline below.

Interviews and Site Visits

Program site visits and interviews are a critical part of the application review process. The purpose of the site visit and interview is for panelists to connect with the proposed project’s key players, location, and community. Applicants are expected to prepare for an interview or visit to accommodate these requirements. Mass Cultural Council staff will assist in the preparation of an agenda.

The decision on site visits or interviews will be made for each category of applicants in December 2021 and applicants will be notified ahead of their site visits.

For new applicants to the program, an interview or site visit will be scheduled that involves Mass Cultural Council Staff, a panelist, and representatives from the applying organization. Interviews are conducted by phone or through an online meeting platform.

For the interview, the panelist will:

  • Talk to senior staff from the organization and key staff for proposed program.
  • Talk to someone in a caretaking/authority position with the participating (or intended) young people, outside-of-the-program staff (parents, collaborators, case workers, or other key stakeholders as appropriate).
  • Talk with a teaching artist or member of the instructional staff who work with young people each day.
  • Talk to participating young people and at least one alum, if possible.

Site visits are scheduled ahead of time to accommodate both the panelists’ and the applicants’ schedules and they will take place after the application has been submitted. The panelist conducting the site visit will create a site visit report that Mass Cultural Council will provide to the full panel ahead of the panel review. More information on site visits and interviews will be provided by Mass Cultural Council staff once the application has been received.

For site visits, the panelist will:

  • Visit during a regular working session, not a culminating event, final showcase, or performance. In the case of multiple program sites, every effort will be made to engage with each defined program site.
  • Observe “the process” in action—class, rehearsal, etc.—so that they can see the interaction between adults and young people, instructional approach and flow, space, etc.
  • See examples and/or documentation of completed student work.
  • Review and discuss specific evaluation/documentation tools.

Award Amount and Funding Period

Grant amounts will be determined by the money available, and the number of projects recommended for funding. In FY22 the grants were $22,000. All grantees receive the same grant amount.

Successful applicants are eligible to receive funding for a three-year period:

  • Year 1: Funding period July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023
  • Year 2: Funding period July 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024
  • Year 3: Funding period July 1, 2024 – June 30, 2025

All awards are contingent upon Mass Cultural Council’s allocation and receipt of sufficient funds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and National Endowment for the Arts. The award amount may increase or decrease during each of the three years depending on those funding levels.

Matching Requirements

YouthReach grants no longer carry a matching requirement.

Reporting Requirements

FINAL REPORT: All grant recipients are required to submit reports, annually to Mass Cultural Council, detailing the project’s progress, including any proposed changes in timeline, personnel, collaborating organizations, or content, along with annual financial information. Reports must demonstrate continued commitment to the project by all partners and be signed by officials from the primary applicant agency.

HOLDS, MODIFICATIONS, CANCELLATIONS: Mass Cultural Council has the right to withhold, reduce, or discontinue funding if a YouthReach grantee:

  • Misses reporting deadlines.
  • Does not notify the Mass Cultural Council of changes in program collaborators or other significant changes in the project.
  • Demonstrates inadequate recruitment and/or retention of participating youth.
  • Fails to carry out the program as described in the approved application. Mass Cultural Council will not release the next year’s funding until complete reports are received from the primary applicant.

Grant Timeline

October 19, 2021: Online application opens for new and returning applicants

October 19 and 20, 2021: Information sessions and logic model webinars available

December 16, 2021: Application deadline

December 2021: Interviews and site visits scheduled for applying organizations

February – May 2022: Site visits and interviews take place

May 2022: YouthReach panels meet

July 2022: Governor signs FY23 fiscal year budget

August 2022: Mass Cultural Council’s governing Council reviews panels’ funding recommendations

September 2022: Funding decisions announced

October 2022: FY23 Contracts due

November 2022: 80 percent of FY23 award issued

July 2023: FY23 final reports due

July 2023: Governor signs FY24 fiscal year budget

August 2023: Mass Cultural Council’s governing Council reviews panels’ funding recommendations

September 2023: Funding decisions announced

October 2023: FY24 Contracts due

November 2023: 80 percent of FY24 award issued

July 2024: FY24 final reports due

July 2024: Governor signs FY25 fiscal year budget

August 2024: Mass Cultural Council’s governing Council reviews panels’ funding recommendations

September 2024: Funding decisions announced

October 2024: FY25 Contracts due

November 2024: 80 percent of FY25 award issued

July 2025: FY25 final reports due

Legal and Other Requirements

Acknowledgement of Funding

Grant recipients are required to credit Mass Cultural Council for funding. Attachment D of your Contract Package and the online Credit and Publicity Kit have more details.

Accessibility and Non-Discrimination Policies

Mass Cultural Council is committed to ensure that all personnel and service programs, policies, and practices will be formulated and conducted in a manner which will ensure equal access for all people and prevent discrimination not only as a matter of law, but also as a policy designed to encourage the participation of all segments of the Commonwealth’s population in Mass Cultural Council programs and services.

Mass Cultural Council is happy to offer applicants/grantees alternative formats, auxiliary aids, and services necessary so that any individual can participate in the Mass Cultural Council’s programs and services. Contact our staff for help.

Mass Cultural Council is dedicated to creating a workplace, programs, and services that welcome, respect, and value people of all races, color, age, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religions, creeds, ancestry, national origin, disability, and veteran status. Mass Cultural Council will not fund any organization or program that discriminates based on these attributes. We strive to reflect diversity in all activities, programs, and services removing any barriers to accessibility. Mass Cultural Council and its grantees are expected to comply with:

Mass Cultural Council’s grantees sign a contract (see contract requirements) certifying that they will comply with ADA and Section 504. Mass Cultural Council aims to help grantees understand their obligations and recognize the opportunities that increasing access can support both the public and the grantee. Additional information about Mass Cultural Council’s Accessibility Requirements and Compliance Tools for Grantees are located in our Access Policy.

Contract Holds, Penalties, and Restrictions

Mass Cultural Council may apply a contract hold, penalty, or restriction if you are not in compliance with grant requirements. Mass Cultural Council has the right to hold, reduce, discontinue funding, or apply restrictions to the use of grant funds if a grantee:

  • Intentionally misrepresents finances, programming, or other eligibility requirements.
  • Does not notify Mass Cultural Council of significant organizational changes, cannot carry out the stated mission, or if it demonstrates inadequate financial management and oversight. The notification must be made in writing and must provide reasonable advanced notice. In cases where a grantee experiences serious organizational capacity issues, Mass Cultural Council will work with that organization to address the challenge.

Reconsideration Policy

An applicant may request reconsideration of a Mass Cultural Council decision on their application if the applicant can demonstrate that Mass Cultural Council failed to follow published application and review procedures. Dissatisfaction with the results of a review does not constitute grounds for reconsideration.

The first step in the reconsideration process is to consult with the appropriate program staff to discuss the review process that concluded in Mass Cultural Council’s decision. If the applicant wishes to pursue a reconsideration, a request must be sent to Mass Cultural Council’s Executive Director, in writing, within 30 days of Mass Cultural Council’s notification to the applicant of its decision.

New Grants Management System

All applicants should submit their applications through the online system.

  1. Check to see if you already have a user profile in the grants management system:
    • Go to the online application.
    • Click “Forgot Password”.
    • Once you submit your email address, you will receive an email with a temporary password and a link to the site.
    • Copy the password to use on the login page, you will then be prompted to create a new password.
  1. If you do not already have a user profile, complete a registration in the grants management system:
    • Register as an Organization. You will select your organization using a search field or add it if it is not listed. The organization is the applicant and grantee and you are the primary contact for the application.

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