Pontiac, Michigan, isn’t rebounding fast enough for the city’s youth, so an organization called Leaders of the Future (LF) is taking a role in bringing Pontiac back to its pre-recession prominence. In 2014, four ambitious high school students, Courtland Sargent, Noel Waterman, Lauje Scott and Anders Engnell, launched LF (a 501c-3 nonprofit organization) to transform their community and their own lives.

For the past three years, the group has held weekly Friday meetings in which they have trained and developed the business and leadership skills of high school students in Pontiac while creating an entrepreneurial family. “Each leader we’ve developed has been a major part of launching projects in the community, which range from house renovation to park clean up and restoration,” said Anders Engnell, co-founder and CEO of LF. LF has committed thousands of volunteer hours building fences and park benches on abandoned lots in Pontiac, restoring park facilities and cleansing the spaces of trash, helping out at homeless shelters and clothing closets, and launching drives to provide school supplies and clothes for elementary students.

With roots in Pontiac dating back to 1902, AkzoNobel learned about LF and identified an opportunity to enhance a community-embedded, sustainable, student-led group that speaks directly to its Human Cities initiative, an effort to help cities deliver a stronger sense of community purpose, pride and happiness. On December 20, the company held a special presentation at Pontiac’s City Hall where Johan Landfors, President of AkzoNobel North America, announced a $100,000 donation to LF.

According to Engnell, the money will fund numerous projects, including three major projects in 2017. The first is an orchard and apiary that LF will design and then install on two lots on the southwest side of Pontiac. With AkzoNobel volunteers, they will plant peach, apple and cherry trees, and place beehives for the community to care for and enjoy. The second is a Gateway to Pontiac Garden that will be placed at one of the major highway entrances to the city. The currently empty space will be marked with a Welcome to Pontiac sign and a bed of flowers and shrubs to let visitors know that the city is alive and thriving. The third is a Community Backyard, an innovative space that will provide both aesthetic beauty and community functionality on a previously abandoned swath of lots. LF will lay down a bed of mulch, plant fruit trees, place park benches and a play structure, and construct a greenhouse that will produce fresh food for the neighborhood.

Landfors noted that the projects are designed, engineered and selected by the students, and they are encouraged to embrace projects that are based on sustainability principles. The agenda of projects is voted on by the Board of Directors, and an AkzoNobel representative was warmly welcomed as a new member on the board.

AkzoNobel is also introducing a scholarship program to provide financial support to help students active in LF attend college. “Leaders of the Future is stocked with motivated, engaged and eager high achievers who offer themselves as mentors for other students who are eager to learn from the success of others. Our scholarship program will provide the opportunity for higher education, which is a springboard toward successful career objectives. The scholarship program will open the door to opportunity, and we are confident that these students will take that opportunity and blossom,” said Landfors.