Partnership with Rhizome Will Advance Civic Education in WA Schools

Nov 01 2023

Young people hold untapped collective power to build the safer, happier, and healthier world we want to live in. 

Rhizome and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced a $620,000 initiative aimed at creating a new Civic Service Fellowship program in Washington high schools. This three-year initiative will establish over 100 teams of Fellows in hyperlocal Chapters across the state of Washington. Rhizome’s Civic Service Fellowship prioritizes rural communities, under-resourced areas, and communities of color.

The Civic Service Fellowship will empower high school students to lead year-round initiatives designed to boost civic engagement within their schools and communities. This will include organizing community events, educating younger students about democracy, and assisting their eligible peers with voter registration or pre-registration. Students have the opportunity to mend divisions, combat disengagement, and address the mental health crisis by creating civic communities. By inviting students to gain leadership experience and build healthy habits based on who they want to become, Rhizome inspires responsibility and produces pathways for lifelong leadership and public engagement

Civic participation can be an important factor for young people’s social and mental well-being. Recent research from Gallup has found that less than half of Gen Z members feel as though they are “thriving” and only 44% feel prepared for their future. While 76% of young people across the country believe their age group has the power to enact change, only 40% of all youth—and only 34% of youth of color—report feeling well-qualified to participate in politics. In an era marked by diminishing public trust and worsening mental health outcomes among young people, this initiative will equip students with the tools to engage their communities in building a healthier world for all.

“After 90 of us came together as Co-Founders of Rhizome just two years ago, we are thrilled to announce this multi-year partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, addressing the need for sustainable systems that empower emerging leaders to shape change,” said Jacob Merkle, Rhizome’s CEO. “In an era of unmet challenges to our civic and mental health, this collaboration allows Rhizome to scale our grassroots system, deepen our impact, and build collective power for young people. We’re grateful for the foundation's recognition that young people are the future. We hope this early commitment will spur philanthropy to provide more scale-enabling, no-strings-attached funding for young people to create the safer, happier, and healthier world they deserve.”

“Witnessing the growth of Rhizome from day one has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. Not simply the growth of the organization, but the tangible difference that has been made in the confidence of countless students. As an organizer in Washington, my proudest moment is seeing the transformation in students as they gain their voice to fearlessly advocate for their own beliefs,” said Hiba Siddiqui, a Rhizome Regional Organizer who works in Eastern Washington. “Having the support of partners like the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation reaffirms our mission and gives us the resources to expand our reach. I am excited to see the indelible impact that will be made as Rhizome brings our community of trust, friendship, and belonging to other areas in Washington.”

“Civic education is necessary now more than ever. Our civic landscape has shifted and testifies to the urgency to actively involve youth in bettering their communities and solving societal issues. As a committed civic educator for over two decades, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have partners in this mission,” said Jen Reidel, a Social Studies and English teacher at Bellingham High School. “I can provide classroom experiences, but I need like-minded civic organizations like Rhizome to help students find their civic identities and mission outside the classroom.” 

Photo courtesy Rhizome

According to Ms. Reidel, Rhizome removes the responsibility of supporting a student club outside of class from the teacher and places it on the students and their Rhizome mentor. It honors student agency and diversity by equipping students to promote civic engagement within their school and identify issues they would like to address at a local level and authentically work toward their solution.

Funds from the partnership will directly support student-led efforts by paying a dedicated team of Rhizome’s student organizers in Washington, who will work to implement the Civic Service Fellowship in local schools in their communities. By funding this important work, Rhizome and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation are investing deeply in the next generation of lifelong civic leaders.