Youth Change Agents

Collaboration with The Breathe Project 

Competition Description

Young people know best the conditions that impact their daily lives, yet in most contexts, they are not given the opportunity to speak out or take action that leads to meaningful change.  This competition is designed to provide opportunities for youth, with adult mentors, to take action on air quality issues in their communities.  


Participating youth and their adult mentors are asked to design a project that meets at least one of the following goals:

  • increase awareness of the impact of air quality issues in the Pittsburgh region;
  • create first-time opportunities for youth to participate as a volunteer or in a service learning opportunity to improve air quality in our region; or
  • expand opportunities for young people to learn about historical and contemporary movements for change and put those lessons into an action plan to improve the region’s air quality.  

All projects must have an activity where youth fully participate by working as change agents around the air quality issue they have chosen to address.  The project cannot be a passive learning opportunity, but instead should be an opportunity for youth to become active and engaged in social change.


The competition is open to youth (grades 7-12) in the Pittsburgh region.  We will consider entries that:

  • Serve at least one of the competition goals of Youth Change Agents:  Breathe Ambassadors in the Pittsburgh Region.  We are challenging local youth to identify issues that are meaningful to them and create opportunities where they can become actively engaged in creating change. 
  • Are innovative: We’re looking for new ideas for projects that have not yet been launched or built in the Pittsburgh region.  Projects that replicate projects or program existing in locations outside of the Pittsburgh region may be considered. but must have a Pittsburgh region twist (something that makes it stand out among the existing programs and creates specific value in our region). 
  • Identify a nonprofit organization partner to work with youth to develop the idea into a feasible project:  Young people interested in applying must identify an organization to work with and a staff member or community volunteer who will serve as a supervisor or mentor.  Nonprofit organizations serving youth also are encouraged to work with their youth constituents to develop and enter projects.  If you need help in finding a nonprofit organization, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Breathe Project can work with you to help you identify and connect to an appropriate partner. 
  • Are located in and will take place in the Pittsburgh region:  We are looking for young people who are located in Allegheny County or one of the nine surrounding counties (Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington or Westmoreland). 
  • Complete the entry form.
  • Are submitted in English.

Judging Criteria

  1. Community Issue: Why is clean air important to you?  How does air quality affect your life or the lives of others in your community?  Reflect upon how other youth might see this issue.  What do other youth think about this issue?  What makes it a community issue?  What do you want to change?        
  2. Plan for Change:  How do you want to make change happen?  What challenges/obstacles might you face in implementing your project?  Who do you want to involve in your plan for change?  The best projects will describe activities in which youth are empowered to express their voices, exercise their creativity and have a positive social impact in the public arena.
  3. Innovation:  Is the project new?  What makes this idea innovative?  Does it represent a new way of working toward change?  What makes it stand out?  While winners will not be expected to expand their project beyond the 10-county Pittsburgh region, we are looking for ideas that could be universally applicable.  Entrants may use the arts and/or technology in new and unexpected ways to carry out the project and/or ensure youth participation.
  4. Social Impact:  What do you want to be changed as a result of the project?  What is the social impact of your project on youth and the community?  How does it help build empathy, stimulate citizenship, raise awareness, influence public policy or deepen a community’s understanding?  Does this idea present a solution for increasing access, knowledge or community engagement?  How would you evaluate the project’s success?  It also will be important that the project does not have a negative environmental impact.   
  5. Sustainability:  Will you and your partner organization be able to work together and implement the project?  Will the project be able to secure widespread community support and ensure youth participation?  Entrants should describe how they would use the funding to accomplish the goals of the project.  If successful, could this project be replicated and/or sustained by the partner organization?  The most successful entries will go beyond a general description and will detail the “road map” or specific steps needed to implement the project.  Lastly, the strongest entrants or teams will clearly demonstrate how they will engage diverse voices and perspectives in the Pittsburgh region.

Competition Details


Entries will be accepted on a rolling basis until WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2013 at 5:00p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time.  Applicants are encouraged to submit ideas early so they can receive comments, questions and insights from the student advisory committee and the general public.  Applicants are encouraged to use this feedback to edit and improve their entries. 



1)  Entry Period

Friday, February 1st, 2013 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 8th, 2013.  

Entries can be submitted beginning on Friday, February 1st and closing on Wednesday, May 8th at 5:00p.m. US Eastern Standard Time.  Entries must fulfill all eligibility requirements.

2)  Community Dialogue

Applicants are encouraged to review and comment on other entries. 

Discussion is open to the general public to build awareness of youth activities and invite additional input and/or comments. Additional comments and discussion are encouraged after the entry period has closed. 

3)  Review

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8th, 2013 – FRIDAY, MAY 17th, 2013. 

An advisory committee of local youth and knowledge experts will review entries against the eligibility and judging criteria.  Awards will range from $1,000 to up to $2,500 based upon project description.

4)  Grant Awards 

Twelve high quality and innovative ideas will be selected to receive awards ranging from $1,000 to up to $2,500 to seed the project in the community.  Ideas that receive funding will be highlighted on the NVOY website. 

Everyone who enters the competition will receive increased exposure to the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Breathe Project, regional grantmakers and others who are interested in similar issues relating to youth engagement and civic dialogue.  Participation in the project offers the opportunity to receive feedback on your ideas from fellow entrants, competition staff, judges and the community. The grant should only be used to implement the winning projects unless otherwise expressly approved by the Pittsburgh Foundation.