I’ve never done anything inspiring in my life. But I tend to surround myself with other young people who do amazing things every day.
I work with high school students. I help them take power in their communities and develop the leadership skills necessary to accomplish the changes they want to see. Outside of school hours, we are able to learn more by accident. We learn from each other. We learn things that really matter. We sit around a table and make plans to change the world through music videos, aquaponics systems, and mentorship programs. They bring the ideas. I just ask questions. I listen. I synthesize and repeat back what they tell me. I write it all down and ask more questions.
Through this process, the hardest question is almost always: What do we need to make it happen? Sometimes the answer is something easy, like “permission from the principal,” or “my mom to cook food for everybody.” But too often the answer is something we don’t have, or don’t have access to: money. Even in their personal projects, I’ve seen how these youth, poets, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs could have so much success, if they only had access to the resources that other teenagers in other places can pull out of a grandmother’s closet, or call an uncle for. But the youth who I work with are lucky. They at least have someone who believes in them.
As a youth worker, I never tell people what to do or how to do it. I get them to tell me. Somehow helping others through this process is so much easier than helping myself.
But now it’s my turn.
The website is big bubbles of color, hovering between thought and being. It holds the dreams of nearly a hundred young people, each one quivering to change a world, benefit a community, develop as a leader, and come to life.
The home screen is divided between CONTRIBUTOR and YOUTH.
Click one and it slides into view:
Do you believe in youth ideas and potential?
Do you believe in our capacity to change the world, not tomorrow, but TODAY?
Do you want to help bring an amazing youth project to life?
Click on projects grouped by age group, focus, region, and ways to get involved. Each click comes closer to supporting a young person—either donating money towards supplies, stipends, or trainings needed to complete a project, or offering time in the form of mentorship or volunteer hours.
It’s safe. All donations are made via secure online server. Mentors are vetted and approved by a committee and must have a background check.
It’s responsible. Supplies are ordered by the organization and shipped directly to the youth. Stipends are cut bit-by-bit as youth submit reports. Youth are supported in partnerships throughout their projects.
It’s accountable. Youth submit reflections and documentation of their projects as they go along, to keep contributors posted on their progress, and end with a thank you to all who have helped along the way.
Click the other, and blocks break through the ceiling:
Want to change your world?
Have a project idea that will benefit your community?
Or a dream that you are ready to make reality?
Each building block holds a young person’s story. They bump in, stack up over the brim of the page, and hold, sturdy. It gives the idea that young people’s ideas are solid enough to build a better world. That they really can – when given the opportunity, support, and resources.
The gap in the center of the page glows with promise.
Submit your big idea here.
YOUth CAN make it happen.
I click the glowing link in the center of the screen. Ten questions guide me through my proposal.
I believe young people have amazing ideas for catalyzing change in our communities, but that many are never able to bring their dreams to life because of a lack of support, resources, or money. I believe that people in community want to support youth in our dreams, but don’t know how.
I want to eradicate the barriers that stand in the way of youth achieving our dreams and affecting our communities. I want to use community members’ desire to help and guide support into healthy, helpful avenues.
I will do this by creating an online platform where youth can propose project ideas to seek and receive support and funding.
I know there are people who want to support youth. What holds them back is not knowing how, and fear that money will be misused or the projects will not work. This structure ensures that each youth is fully supported throughout the project, that donations are made securely, and that adults get to help in ways that are actually helpful.
By February I hope to have a team of collaborators that will guide the process. We will test and edit proposal questions, begin forming a network of mentors, and pilot proposals from young people in the area. These initial proposals should receive the support they need to launch within four months.
In my long-term vision, the platform will be accessible from anywhere. Projects from kids in Kenya might be funded by donors from Missouri to Mexico City. Youth ages five to twenty-five will be able to make proposals for projects in their communities, wherever they are.
I will know my project is a success when I have had more than ten proposals from young people, and have connected each with one of three types of support: funding, supplies, and mentorship.
So far, Youthprise has supported me in bringing this project to life. The Change Fellows program brought me through all the necessary steps to make it happen. I want to carry that support to other young people like me.
I have the skills and experience necessary to lead youth through projects of their own. I ask questions, push people towards their goals, and help them find their own way to get there.
To make my idea a reality, I need to grow my team. I need to broaden my network. I need more people to invest in me.
The blocks will fall into place, but it has to start with a burst.
Invest in me. Invest in youth.