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Bringing Youth Venture to North Central Massachusetts

With the announcement of United Way of North Central Massachusetts President/CEO Philip Grzewinski retiring this year, we highlight some of his experiences, and one of his proudest achievements.


If there is one thing UWNCM President/CEO Philip Grzewinski prides himself on, it’s recognizing a great idea when he sees it—and then taking it to the next level.


Such is the case with United Way Youth Venture, a youth leadership initiative that was originally created by the Virginia-based Ashoka organization. When Grzewinski heard about the program in 2002, he knew he wanted to bring it to North Central Massachusetts, but also decided to make one important change.


“Ashoka’s program was primarily based in communities, but they struggled to get it into schools because they were located in such a large metropolitan area,” says Grzewinski. “I realized that in our smaller region I could have a lot more success reaching out to schools.”


In the program’s first year, Grzewinski was able to recruit three school systems and about 40 students. Since then, it has continued to expand and has also solidified its successful model of supporting student teams to independently identify and propose solutions to problems in their communities.


“The program taps into the caring power of youth and shows that we trust them to do the right thing,” says Grzewinski. “We asked participants how it made them feel and they said things like, ‘I feel powerful,’ ‘I feel important,’ and “no one has ever asked me my opinion before.’”


United Way Youth Venture is now active in 25 local schools and has impacted the lives of thousands of students, an achievement noted by Bill Drayton, the well-known founder of Ashoka.


“When Bill found out I was retiring, he wrote me a note saying that what we’ve done here is unique around the globe. We have the highest concentration of youth who have gone through Youth Venture on the planet,” says Grzewinski.


Youth Venture participants also showed their gratitude for Grzewinski recently, by presenting him with a poster filled with handwritten sentiments at the Youth Venture Showcase Recap event.


“The students know what this program means to them, and their sentiments just blew me away,” says Grzewinski “It’s something I’ll hold onto forever.”