Giving voice to dreams

A community impact project is in the hands of a new group of area youth leaders who believe they can achieve their dream of making a difference for Macon County youth.

Youth Leaders in Action (YLIA) launched in late September after an application process to select 56 young leaders from all 11 high schools within Macon County. The students will meet monthly during this school year and are charged with completing a project that will positively impact the lives of youth in Macon County. Already, they have elected officers and identified what they see as the top issues facing area youth, including anxiety, racism and substance abuse. Their total list of concerns will help shape what becomes their project moving forward.

Mikayla Jackson, a Sangamon Valley High School senior who was elected by her YLIA peers to serve as chair for the new group, welcomes this opportunity to take action.

“I’m definitely hoping to do something in our schools as well as in our community,” says the active high school student, who is already taking some classes at Lincoln Christian University and hopes to return to teach at her Macon County high school after earning her college degree. “I believe that people do care about what young people have to say, and that we can make a difference.”

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Jacob Roubein, YLIA vice chair and a Mt. Zion High School senior, lived in Houston, Texas, until two years ago when his family moved to Decatur. In Houston, he was accustomed to being part of groups that worked to help others in the community. So, although carrying a heavy scholastic schedule and a long list of extracurricular activities as he considers a possible future in law, he was seeking to make a difference through collaborating with other like-minded youth.

“I was wanting to get involved in a group working to make positive changes,” Jacob says. “That’s what attracted me to YLIA. Our generation is the one that is going to fix things in the future. This is a good opportunity to start working together to see what we can do.”

Brittani is encouraging the group to dream big and then do the hard work of managing that dream to success.

“Since this is a group focused on leadership, I want them to lead it,” Brittani says. “They’re going to identify the project and drive the train. I’m asking them: ‘What’s your dream? Let’s do it!’”

All 20 seniors in the group are eligible to apply for the $2,500 Wiesemann Family college scholarship offered only to YLIA members.

“Youth and community foundations are a dynamic combination,” says Natalie Beck, president, The Community Foundation of Macon County. “When we work to invest in the development of today’s young people, we’re really investing in the development of the next generation – and the next – and the next.

“The ripples spread out from our investment and where they will end, we can never know. YLIA will empower young people and give them a voice in Macon County,” Natalie adds.

Brittani anticipates challenges will arise as the young leaders work on completing their project.

“But we’ll work through issues as they come up,” Brittani says. “That’s part of being a leader, too – working through the inevitable bumps in the road.”

Hickory Point Bank is a presenting sponsor for Young Leaders in Action and other support is welcome. For more information about how you can support this youth group, email Brittani at

Guiding the YLIA

The coordinator of a new group of Macon County youth leaders is herself a young leader who grew up in Macon County.

Brittani Garner, director of programs and scholarships

Brittani Garner, director of programs and scholarships for The Community Foundation of Macon County, is coordinator for the newly formed Young Leaders in Action (YLIA). The group of 56 teenagers from 11 Macon County schools is seeking to positively impact other young lives through community projects.

A graduate of both MacArthur High School and Millikin University, Brittani started working at the Community Foundation in fall 2018 after previously working for the University of Illinois Extension for nearly four years. Among her responsibilities in that role, she served as Macon County 4-H program coordinator, where she found her passion in helping young people achieve their goals.

“We’re grateful for the passion and dedication Brittani brings to our mission each and every day,” says Natalie Beck, president of The Community Foundation of Macon County.

In addition to launching and leading the YLIA program, Britanni also leads The Community Foundation’s educational grants and program outreach, and coordinates the scholarship program.

What does a youth leader look like?

When does she find time to sleep? That’s a very good question.

Mikayla Jackson, chair of Young Leaders in Action

Mikayla Jackson, chair of the Young Leaders in Action (YLIA) community impact group, is an example of the high-energy, goal-focused, high school student members of this new organization facilitated by The Community Foundation of Macon County.

A senior at Sangamon Valley High School, Mikayla was recently named to the Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council. In addition to already taking classes at Lincoln Christian University, the school she plans to attend next fall, she also serves on her high school’s principal advisory council, student council, color guard, dance team, FFA and FBLA, and she has played on the girls basketball team for the past two seasons. She is actively involved in the OasisYouth group at Harristown Foursquare Church, and while in eighth grade, she and a group of school friends formed Acts 29, a group of Christian youth serving to give back to their community. Mikayla is also completing a half-day internship at Sangamon Valley Middle School throughout this semester.

Mikayla shrugs off the idea that she is exceptionally busy, noting that YLIA is composed of other like-minded high school students.

“We all share similar goals,” she says. “We all feel like we’re young leaders. I think this will be a good experience in working together, and I hope we’ll do some great things.”