Young people take center stage as Spitfire brings their voices to the forefront.
Annabelle Gardner believes in the power of young people to change the world. A devoted advocate for youth — particularly in the areas of mental health and foster care — Annabelle feels strongly that young people impacted by social issues and public programs must be at the center of telling their stories and developing solutions.
“At the heart of all the work I do is the belief that young people are experts in their own experience,” she says. “They know what’s working and what’s not in their schools and communities. They are the tenacious leaders we need to create meaningful change.”
Annabelle, who joined Spitfire’s San Francisco office last year as a Senior Account Executive, is putting her philosophy to good use. Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., she’s been working with the California Wellness Foundation and the Hope and Heal Fund — a group of California funders focused on gun violence prevention — to amplify the voices of youth leaders and encourage funders to support their efforts to lead a nationwide gun violence prevention movement.
She is also working with Cal Wellness and Hope and Heal to expand the conversation beyond school shootings.
“We’re supporting our partners to broaden the narrative to include all forms of gun violence,” Annabelle says. “Young lives are impacted by gun violence every day in communities across America — whether through suicide, domestic violence, police violence or community violence. We want to lift up the multitude of young people’s experiences and promote community-based solutions that save lives.”
Annabelle is ideally suited to an effort like this. She came to Spitfire after five years heading up a San Francisco-based nonprofit she co-founded with her father, Patrick Gardner, called Young Minds Advocacy. Her father has spent his career as a public interest attorney largely focused on advocating for children’s issues — an inspiration for Annabelle, who grew up attending organizing and fundraising events for the various nonprofits he worked for.
Young Minds Advocacy is dedicated to breaking down barriers to quality mental health care for youth in California. Annabelle led the organization’s efforts to reduce stigma toward mental illness and provide opportunities for youth and their allies to advocate for improvements to access and services. Annabelle says much of the organization’s focus has been on young people in the foster care, child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and ensuring they can access community-based, trauma-informed care.
“What draws me to this work is a desire for equity,” she says. “I think we all deserve to live happy and healthy lives — no matter where we live, the color of our skin or how much money we make — but too many young people are growing up in situations and systems where they’re not getting a fair chance.”
To Annabelle, her current work around gun violence prevention builds on her previous advocacy. Following mass shootings, people with mental health issues are often scapegoated, when truthfully, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, not the perpetrators. Gun violence also impacts the mental health of youth and families who live in communities where hearing gun shots or losing a loved one to gun violence is commonplace. Suicide — the second leading cause of death among teens — is also exacerbated by access to guns. These issues are among the problems she is helping Spitfire’s partners address.
For example, Annabelle recently partnered with LYRIC, a San Francisco-based nonprofit which supports LGBTQQ youth leaders. Annabelle helped LYRIC create a video for their 30th anniversary event focusing on one of their projects, a fellowship program supporting LGBTQQ youth who have experienced domestic or dating violence. The video is an opportunity for the fellows to raise awareness, share their stories and inspire action in their community.
Annabelle also worked with Youth Services America, a nonprofit that helps young people find their voice, take action and make an impact on vital community issues. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of their most popular event, Global Youth Services Day, Annabelle worked with YSA to amplify stories of young people making a difference in their communities on issues from climate change and hunger to healthcare and access to education.
A strong believer in the power of education to change a young person’s life, Annabelle is part of the Spitfire team working with California State University Los Angeles to develop a student campaign to increase graduation rates. The campaign, which will launch this fall, aims to address barriers that prevent students — especially first-generation college students and students of color — from graduating in a timely way.
Outside Spitfire, Annabelle serves on the board of Good Ol’ Girls, a nonprofit that empowers progressive women through outreach, education and mentorship, and co-facilitates the Bay Area Cause Communications Community, which helps nonprofit communicators improve their skills.
Helping organizations and their staff build communications capacity is a priority for Annabelle. She has seen first-hand how challenging it can be, especially for small grassroots organizations like the organizations she has led and partnered with throughout her career. In fact, she says that’s one of the reasons she joined Spitfire.
“I recognized a serious lack of capacity around communications work,” Annabelle says. “Because of a lack of resources and training, many organizations doing amazing work in their communities struggle to engage the constituents, funders and policy makers they need to reach their goals. One of the things I love about Spitfire is that it helps build that capacity — training folks on the ground in communications best practices so they can grow their impact.”