A Coffee Chat with Noah Kent by Renee’ Deckrow
“So remember, learn something new every day. Step out of your comfort zone and try something different. It really does make a difference.
Joining the Midland Area Youth Action Council is an invaluable experience. It opens doors to learning about our county’s hidden gems and volunteering opportunities. This is your chance to broaden your knowledge, connect with inspiring individuals, and bring life-changing projects to fruition. With the right funding and determination, you can impact countless young lives. It’s truly empowering to realize the profound influence you, as a young person, can have on others. Seize this powerful opportunity and make a difference beyond your imagination.” – Noah Kent, on advice for seizing the day and the impact of the Youth Action Council
Upon being warmly welcomed by Noah’s contagious smile, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Noah Kent, the current Director of Technology and Auditorium Services at Meridian Public Schools. Notably, Noah is an alumnus of the Midland Area Youth Action Council on multiple levels. Having expressed deep gratitude, Noah describes working for his alma mater as an incredibly special privilege, having graduated in 2014. After completing his Associate’s degree from Delta College, he furthered his education at Saginaw Valley State University, where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree. With a tenure exceeding ten years at Meridian Public Schools, Noah’s enthusiasm for his schools, the community they serve, and the entirety of Midland County is simply infectious.
Thank you for meeting with me; we are celebrating the Midland Area Community Foundation’s 50th anniversary and interviewing 50 people in the community. They’ve all worked with the Foundation to make a positive impact. I saw that you were involved with the Youth Action Council. Can you tell me about that collaboration and what you did?
“So, there’s this awesome group called the Midland Area Youth Action Council, or “Youth Action Council” for short. It’s made up of junior high and high school students from all over Midland County. We get together to volunteer in the community and even give out grants to folks who need them, especially if it benefits students or children in the county. Funny thing is, I started out as a member and worked my way up to different positions until I ended up being invited to attend adult board meetings as a student. Picture this: me and a couple of other students leave school in the middle of the day to attend adult meetings. We were the ones constantly bombarding everyone with questions. The adults were more reserved, but we just had to ask, like 40 questions before moving on. We didn’t have voting power or anything, but boy, did we have questions,” Noah laughs.
That’s awesome, I exclaim! I just love how young people bring such a unique perspective, you know? I love how curious young people are and how they don’t assume they know everything. It’s pretty amazing that this program allows you to be invited to have a seat at the table. I appreciate that the Midland Area Community Foundation values diverse experiences, even different ages, which is wonderful. So, tell me about the Youth Action Council because not everyone knows what it is. One of my kids did a bit with it, but can you simplify it for us?
“So, we’d meet up once a month, sometimes twice, either in the [Foundation’s] conference room or the hangout space in the basement. We’d review grants that were submitted to us. We had four cycles throughout the year. The presenters would come in a couple of times, give us info, and we could ask questions. Then we’d vote on it, yes or no. We also volunteered in the community. Remember the opening night at Santa’s house? Yeah, we’d be there, turning on all the lights and working. We volunteered at the women’s shelter and did a mannequin night downtown. We were kind of everywhere, you know, helping out. It’s a volunteer organization driven by volunteers to do service projects all over the community. And while doing that, we impact more kids in the community with donations from the Community Foundation. People would ask for things like a puppet theater for their school to help with social-emotional learning. We granted them the money, and it really made an impact. We’d follow up with them too to see how it was going.” shares Noah.
Indeed, it’s truly remarkable. Not only does it inspire volunteers, but it also provides them with an opportunity to gain insights into various grant proposals. As a Foundation Directed Grants Committee member, I genuinely enjoy the experience. Similar to yours, I get to witness all the extraordinary initiatives happening in our community. Out of curiosity, I wonder how many grants did the Youth Aciton Council review in each cycle?
“When I was there, we’d usually do around four or five, Noah answers. We were a bit smaller then . . . I had no clue what a grant was when I first started or how the whole process worked. But now, having gone through it: writing, reviewing, and all that stuff, it’s actually helped me out in my current job when I applied for some grants. I . . . get what they’re looking for and how to present it to them, you know? It’s like, it all comes full circle because you see what’s happening in the community, but you don’t know how it all got there, right? So, seriously, I would totally encourage all the kids to give it a shot ’cause it’s really worth it, I promise.”
It is undeniably remarkable. Through these articles, one of my primary goals is to invite people from all walks of life to actively participate in philanthropy, regardless of age or financial situation.
As you’ve been involved in all this, have you been inspired by the donors who make these grants possible? It’s impressive, right? I want to ask about your own giving philosophy. How can we keep encouraging charitable giving, especially among younger generations? We’ve been interviewing a lot of older donors, and one of them mentioned something to me a couple of months ago. They said, “How do we ensure this spirit of giving continues? How can people see that they have the ability to contribute, no matter their financial status?” It got me thinking, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
“Okay, so imagine this for a moment. Scholarships, right? They can do wonders for students who don’t have the means to go to college. They could be our future presidents, lawyers, doctors. They could even be the ones to find a cure for Alzheimer’s; you never know. And guess what? We have the power to help them get there through donations. It’s amazing how we can change lives with that, you know? Some people might think that their five or ten dollars won’t make a difference, but it does. Think about it. Five or ten bucks could mean another swing on a swing set at a park or an extra baseball or ball for those kids who couldn’t play baseball before. But now they can because of that little bit of money. So, here’s what I’m thinking. We should show off what’s been achieved with those grants. We need good signage, letting people know that a grant made this awesome thing in our community possible. We’re literally changing lives here! And you know what? The more we educate the younger generation about this, the more they’ll start thinking, “Hey, instead of buying my coffee or going out for lunch, I could actually help change someone’s life with that ten bucks.”
I agree, and I’ve found that when you put your money into something, you’re invested differently. It’s not just about supporting a good idea anymore; it’s like you become emotionally invested in its success. It’s like you’re a part of it. So I think there’s real value in giving more than just your time, you know? Time is valuable, for sure, but when you give up your treasures, it’s like you’re making a sacrifice, and you want to see it thrive.
Curiosity piques as I inquire: who or what has been your source of inspiration?
“You know, some of the people who really inspired me were on the Board at the Community Foundation. I saw these amazing individuals who worked in the community and gave back. We’re talking about the kind of people who served on the Board, volunteered at Rotary, and all that good stuff. There’s this person named Angela Cole, and now she’s running for one of the judge seats in Midland. And then there’s Kevin Kendrick, [who] used to work at Dow; let me tell you, he was awesome! He helped me with this project about business etiquette in China when I was still a student. He shared some of the resources he used during his travels there, which came in handy for my presentation. It was really great having him there to support me. And you know what’s even cooler? They both get out there and work in the community, dedicating their time to volunteering. I remember Angela was working with Christie McDonald, the Finance Director at Northwood. They even did the meals after the flood in Sanford. It’s just incredible seeing how these three people can make such a big impact, and it really inspires me to do the same. We’ve become good friends, too, which is awesome.”
It is so awesome to hear how these community members have impacted you. So, I have another question. I love quotes and always ask people if they have a favorite one.
With a bashful grin, Noah confesses, “Okay, I’ll admit it—I’m a bit of a kid at heart. You know what? I have faith in all of you, no matter how little. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.’ And let me tell you, those Disney movies—they are my absolute favorites. I simply can’t get enough of them!”
I love that one, and it is evident that you live by this! Your mention of having a childlike spirit has sparked a thought: if we were directly addressing young readers, what words of wisdom or uplifting messages would you like us to share with them?
Noah speaks passionately, “Never stop learning, you know? You kids might think, “School? Nah, not for me.” But hold on, hear me out. Learning doesn’t always happen in a classroom. It’s not just about books and tests. You might find your path in a trade, the military, or even becoming the next top chef! The point is we’re always learning, just in different ways. So keep learning. There’s so much we can learn from others, and then we can pass it on to help others, too. It’s like a never-ending cycle of growth. Even we teachers are always learning too. Right now, I’m going through this Leadership Academy, and it’s been eye-opening. We’re always looking for new ways to educate and make a difference for your kids and adults, too!
This is great! It’s important for young people to hear such empowering stories, just like yours. You genuinely advocate for empowering the youth, which is truly amazing. They are often wiser than they give themselves credit for. Your description of sitting in on that board meeting and sharing your perspective is a testament to your power and influence. It’s inspiring!
Where I work, people think, “Oh, it’s just a high school.” But we are nowhere near “just” a high school. We actually have amazing opportunities for our students! We send them to Delta College or BACC for trades like carpentry or electrical work. We even have partnerships with Beauty Academy and ABC Construction Academy. So, we offer something for everyone—whether it’s a trade or college. We have a path for them to take. And here’s the best part: if they stay with us for an extra fifth year, we have a program that allows them to go to college or trade school for free. We pay for it! Some of our kids even graduate with an associate’s degree without paying a penny. Others get their CNA or other certifications without any cost. It’s pretty awesome, right? We’re just doing everything we can to help them succeed and learn.
This approach to education deeply resonates with me because I veered away from the conventional path. Instead, I embraced a more fluid journey and, as you wisely encouraged earlier, always try to keep learning. So, what do you think makes a strong community?
‘You know, a strong community is all about people, right?” With conviction in his voice, Noah goes on, “Let me put it this way – schools, they’re like the heart of a community. It’s where all the kids gather, where people who live or have graduated from there come together. It’s a hub, you know? And here’s the thing – strong education plays a significant role in strengthening our community. It brings people together. Trust me, it’s absolutely amazing if you ever attend one of the Meridian band concerts. We have folks watching online all over the country, cheering on their kids. It’s a unifying experience, no matter who you are or where you come from. Schools bring everyone together.
I have heard about Meridian’s impressive music program! So, what are you excited about next?
Noah enthusiastically remarks, “Oh man, I can’t wait for the lakes to come back! It’s crazy how we’re seeing more businesses and people moving into areas where they never used to be. The towns are just booming! We were afraid everyone would bail during the flood, but no way! People are moving in instead. It’s amazing to see what our city has in store. I absolutely love the Downtown area, where they blocked off the streets and created The Commons. Best idea ever! It brings in so many folks and gives businesses more chances to thrive. Some even set up 20 tables out there and get tons of business. And there’s more going on, too – with the developments in Midtown and Center City, things keep growing and popping up everywhere. It shows that our county is really moving forward and leading the charge for all kinds of awesome stuff.”
Noah, thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and witnessing your passion and enthusiasm for our community and youth philanthropy. Could you share with our readers the process of getting involved with the Youth Action Council?
“Yes! Please reach out to the Community Foundation, as they have a dedicated coordinator for the Youth Action Council. They will be able to connect you with the person you need to reach. Joining the Youth Action Council is an invaluable experience. It opens doors to learning about our county’s hidden gems and volunteering opportunities. This is your chance to broaden your knowledge, connect with inspiring individuals, and bring life-changing projects to fruition. With the right funding and determination, you can impact countless young lives. It’s truly empowering to realize the profound influence you, as a young person, can have on others. Seize this powerful opportunity and make a difference beyond your imagination.”
Noah and I agree that Winnie the Pooh offers profound wisdom to the younger generation, reminding them of their inherent courage, hidden strength, and untapped intelligence. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Together, forward, bold… we go!