Innovating Currently

Introducing the 2014 LearnServe Innovation Award Winners

Opportunities and activities for high school students have proliferated over the past decade.  The tools for communicating these opportunities, however, have remained surprisingly constant: bulletin boards, video announcements, loud-speakers, and email lists.

Rockville High School student Xavier Rivera plans to change that.  Xavier is launching Currently, a mobile application and website designed as a virtual bulletin board for school community announcements.  School administrators, student club leaders, and coaches will be able to reach students with schedules, updates, events and announcements on their mobile devices – making communication more seamless, pertinent, and personal.

Xavier is a winner of the 2014 LearnServe Innovation Award (Montgomery and Prince George’s County).  He represents one of 53 student teams from across the DC Metro area who pitched their social venture ideas at the 5th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 24 at the School Without Walls.

Winners of the Innovation Award received a Surface donated by Microsoft, and pro bono professional consultations from M&T Bank, Capital One, ICF International, and Deloitte.

 

MEET THE WINNERS

DC | Winner, DC Public and Charter Schools Category

Simone Banks-Mackey, F.I.G.H.T.

Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy: Parkside

More than 1,600 youth live homeless in a given year, far exceeding the 77 beds reserved for homeless youth.  Simone experienced this first-hand after her family was forced out of their home in NE DC.  F.I.G.H.T. – which stands for Finding, Inspiring, Guiding Homeless Teens – will build a positive and supportive environment for homeless teens through empowerment workshops, dynamic speakers, and academic advising.

 

DC | Runner-Up, DC Public and Charter Schools Category

Asa Canty and Matthew Smee, Hoop Dreams DC

Woodrow Wilson Senior High School

Avid basketball players, Asa and Matt wondered why some of their friends had to travel 45 minutes by bus within DC in order to find a decent basketball court.  They have surveyed students from all four quadrants in Washington DC to identify the courts most in need of an upgrade.  Through fundraisers and volunteer support they will refurbish these courts: replacing nets, re-painting lines, picking up trash, and ensuring the courts remain safe, inspiring places to play.

 

MD | Winner, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Category

Xavier Rivera, Currently

Rockville High School

Zone out during morning announcements and you might miss the message about your basketball game that afternoon, auditions for the orchestra, or a room change for the next Young Changemaker’s meeting.  Currently, designed as an app and website, serves as a virtual bulletin board — allowing students and administrators to personalize and customize the community announcements that matter to them most.

 

MD | Runner-Up, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Category

Fatima Talib, STEM People to People

Wheaton High School

Wheaton High School boasts multiple science and technology-oriented Academies – but until last month, hosted no science fair.  STEM People to People introduced Wheaton’s inaugural science fair, an opportunity to showcase their research and innovations to an audience of science professionals from the community.  The science fair will become an annual event, hosted by Wheaton students and faculty, offering students the opportunity to conduct and showcase original research while still in high school.

 

VA | Winner, Fairfax County Category

Jennifer Kang and Rebecca Soulen, The Atomic League

Annandale High School

Annandale High School students’ families hail from more than 90 countries, and speak more than 50 languages.  Yet there is very little interaction between ethnic groups.  The Atomic League will bring together the school’s myriad ethnic organizations in the context of quarterly service activities – working jointly with the leaders and sponsors to weave a tighter Annandale community.

 

VA | Runners Up, Fairfax County, VA

Katie Pruitt and Mira Sridharan, PLATES

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Even in one of the most affluent counties in the United States, students come to school hungry.  While federal food aid programs offer students free or reduced-priced meals during the school year, these programs may not sufficiently cover school breaks – most notably between the end of the school year and the start of summer programs, when children may go without a guaranteed meal.  PLATES will collect non-perishable items, as well as healthy produced donated by local farmers, which they will share with families during the weeks at the start and end of the summer not covered by food assistance programs.

 

IND | Winner, Independent Schools

Savita Potarazu, The Fine Hearts

Sidwell Friends School

Between 2006 and 2013, public schools in the United States reduced their investment in art supplies and equipment by 84%.  In the process, students enjoy fewer opportunities for creative expression during the school day.  The Fine Hearts links artistically talented high school students – with expertise in mediums as diverse as theater, choir, photography, ceramics, drawing, painting, and creative writing – with schools and community centers in need to expanded arts programming.

 

Ind | Runner-Up, Independent Schools

Kenneth Coleman, Swim to Live

Sidwell Friends School

In the United States, the second leading cause of accidental death in children is drowning – and 1 in 3 minority children don’t know how to swim.  Swimming can be a fun recreational fitness activity – not something to fear.  Swim to Live believes that water safety education is the best way to end the epidemic of drowning deaths.  Swim to Live brings free swim lessons to residents at apartment complexes in Montgomery County, at the invitation of property owners, so that these children can learn to love swimming, not fear it.

 

Inspired by what you’ve read?  Consider a gift to LearnServe.  Contributions to LearnServe made by May 30 will be matched, through the generous support of our Board of Directors.  Invest in next year’s LearnServe Fellows online at www.learn-serve.org/donate.

In one year…

Impact: One Year Later

On April 18, 2013 forty-five student teams pitched their social ventures at the 4th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair.

Ever wonder what happens after they debut their ideas before 150 local business and non-profit leaders?  Below are highlights of their accomplishments over the past year!

We hope you will join us on April 24, 2014 for our 5th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair – an opportunity to meet our newest cohort of LearnServe Fellows, and launch them on a similar path to success.

 

2013 LearnServe Fellows

Thomas Bernhardt-LanierFounder, Global Villager (French International School, MD)

>> Launched with a successful series of fundraisers – soccer tournaments, crowd-funding, and other appeals – that raised more than $11,000 to support the village of Bakwa-Tshileu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Malachi Byrd and Jahi SuleFounders, Write for Change (Cesar Chavez Public Charter School, DC and School Without Walls, DCPS)

>> Kicked off in Spring 2013 with a series of spoken word workshops for DC middle school students.  Jahi has taken a lead role in organizing “One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide” at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage (March-April 2014).

Malachi continues to write, compete in poetry competitions, and teach.  He led a public speaking workshop at LearnServe’s Social Action Summit.  Malachi was recognized with the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship, a four-year full tuition scholarship to George Washington University, valued at $260,000.

 

Aileen ChoiFounder, Message Behind the Music (Winston Churchill High School, MCPS)

>> Began teaching songs with positive lyrics in Fall 2013 to her own church choir.  Aileen is working to kick off her own choir of elementary school students this spring.

 

Joyce Choi  Founder, Learning & Inspiration for Everyone (Thomas Jefferson High School, FCPS)

>> LIFE holds one-hour sessions every other week at Weyanoke Elementary School — offering fun, hands-on science experiments for students with disabilities.  One high school volunteer is assigned to each student with learning disabilities – building towards a mini science fair.

 

Haley Crim and Sirah BahFounders, Team Change (Sandy Spring Friends School, MD)

>> Their latest fundraiser brought in more than $700, which they donated to Action Against Hunger to bring clean water and disaster relief to the Philippines.

 

Olivia DeRamus – Founder, Amitie (St. Andrews Episcopal School, MD)

>> Teamed up with LearnServe Fellow Allegra Brandon (Edmund Burke, DC) to collect and send books in English, French, and Creole to Haiti.  They have formed partnerships with Episcopal schools in Haiti, and are working now to raise funds to both ship and personally bring the books they have collected.

 

Anshula GandhiFounder, Jot Happy (Thomas Jefferson High School, FCPS)

>> Repackaged “Jot Happy” as an app to improve mental health – in consultation with a licensed psychologist – and submitted it to an online competition around technology-based approaches to suicide prevention.  While Jot Happy has not fully launched, Anshula is working to form a new venture around computer science education for elementary school students.

 

Jessica LiFounder, VOICE and the MoCo Student (Richard Montgomery High School, MCPS)

>> In the past year, Jessica has launched not one but two ventures.  “VOICE” offers supplemental academic support to immigrant students.  The “MoCo Student” is a web-based student newspaper with more than 5,000 subscribers.  Jessica was selected a Maryland honoree in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

 

Bowen LianFounder, Community2Community (Richard Montgomery High School, MCPS)

>> Launched in Fall 2013 to connect Richard Montgomery high school volunteers with Asbury Methodist Village, a senior housing community.  In partnership with the music honors society at their school, they are planning a spring concert at Asbury.

 

Samyu Krishna and Meg Cunningham – Founders, Beyond the Sidewalk (Sidwell Friends, DC)

>> Published a series of 6 interviews with homeless individuals affiliated with Friendship Place, a shelter in NW DC.  As her senior project, Samyu plans to expand Beyond the Sidewalk to focus on the broader political and social dynamics of DC’s homelessness crises.

 

Tyriek Mack and Malik Johnson – Founders, Cashonomics (School Without Walls, DCPS)

>> Tyriek was recognized as a Posse Scholar, with a full tuition scholarship to University of Wisconsin, Madison.

 

Emily Richardson – Founder, NoVa Youth Pride (Woodson High School, FCPS)

>> After launching “NoVa Youth Pride” as a Tumblr discussion forum in Spring 2013, Emily went on to create a Gay-Straight Alliance at Woodson High School in Fall 2013.

 

Julia Rodriguez – Founder, Rallying Against Domestic Violence  (Falls Church High School, FCPS)

>> Introduced as an initiative within her student council, RADV has led school fundraisers and a clothing drive to support a local shelter.  The team is planning a spring Domestic Violence Awareness Week and a t-shirt fundraiser.

 

Tho Tran – Founder, Lovable Math (Annandale High School, FCPS)

>> Integrated into the Math Honors Society, Lovable Math allows tutors to add online tutoring options to their repertoire.  Tho’s website offers a virtual tutoring platform, where tutors and tutees can work out their own schedules.

 

Kayla Waysome – Founder, Promises for the Future; Books and Buddies (McLean High School, FCPS)

>> Launched over the summer with a fundraiser – gift baskets of healthy foods – that raised more than $250 to support health education for elementary school students through Promises for the Future.  Kayla has since formed a new venture, Books and Buddies, which pairs honors English students with 3rd and 4th graders.  Meeting every two weeks over 4 months, the high school students help the elementary students prepare for the English standardized test.

 

Mackenzie Williams – Founder, Enviro-FUN (Potomac High School, VA)

>> A series of three summer sessions, Enviro-FUN taught 10 kids, ages 7-10, about recycling, pollution, and endangered species.

 

 

Alumni Ambassadors
Ten LearnServe Fellows Program 2013 graduates have served as Alumni Ambassadors this school year, supporting the new Fellows through the venture design process:
Rachel Bernstein
Joyce Choi
Jessica Li
Jocelyn Martinez
Mahlet Moges
Sasha Mote
Sophia Pink
Mashaba Rashid
Kayla Waysome
Mackenzie Williams

 

 

1st Social Action Summit Success!

Where in DC could you discover interactive design thinking, the challenges of international service, and how the principles of the Leadership Compass help you better manage a team?  And all in the same day?

 

LearnServe International’s 1st Social Action Summit!

 

The Summit, held on Saturday, March 1, 2014, was co-hosted by American University and made possible by the Lisle Global Seed Fund.  Over 125 local high school students – and some adults! – got crash-courses in skills and tips for making their ventures and ideas a reality.

 

We kicked off with a welcome from American University representatives Page Hogan with the College Programs for High School Students, and Steven Angelsmith from the School of International Service.  The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network got us energized and meeting new friends with their ice-breaker activities.Summit attendees chose from a selection of breakout sessions presented by LearnServe alumni and staff, volunteers with City Year DC, and professionals in social media strategy and community organizing.  We also had a panel of Returned Peace Corps volunteers, including our own Ryan Dalton and Allison Eriksen, discussing the importance of community engagement and stakeholders in launching new community programs or ventures.

 

Our closing session began with Malachi Byrd (Fellows ’13, founder- Write for Change) of DC Youth Slam and Split This Rock sharing his poem “Dreaming,” found below.  The keynote speaker was Katie Monroe, Senior Advocate for National Partnerships at The Innocence Project.  We followed her journey of working to exonerate wrongly convicted criminals after her mother was wrongly convicted of a crime.  She shared her own experiences of turning passion into action and encouraged us to find our passions and do the same.

60 Ways to Change the World

Clean water for Pakistan.  End discrimination and bullying.  Teach dental hygiene.

What would you do to change the world?

For a sneak preview of what our 70 LearnServe Fellows are doing, check out the elevator pitches they presented last December — then  join us on April 24 as they share their full project plans with the public.

5th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair
Thursday, April 24, 5-8 pm

School Without Walls
2130 G St NW (Foggy Bottom)
Washington DC 20037
Umar Coffee House video

“Can’t Stop. Won’t Wait.”

Reflections on the importance of taking action.

“There are four words young people are told when proposing something new,” explained Aaron Jenkins, Executive Director of Operation Understanding DC and guest facilitator at the LearnServe Fellows’ winter retreat.  ”Those four words are:  Can’t.  Stop.  Wait.  Don’t.”

Reality, it seems, often threatens to overtake possibility.  Our minds quickly zoom to all the reasons why a new idea won’t work (and there are always many!), hasn’t worked in the past, or might provoke devastating, unforeseen consequences.

Some entrepreneurs have the luxury of testing their ideas away from the public spotlight, debuting their new products and technologies when they are ready to launch.  Even they face lingering doubts — Can’t.  Stop.  Wait.  Don’t. — from within, and from their community of close confidants.

For many social entrepreneurs, activists, and movement leaders those voices of caution are often louder and the stakes are higher.

Franklin McCain, a 1959 graduate of DC’s Eastern High School, was 19 years old when he and three classmates from North Carolina A&T decided to challenge the state’s Jim Crow laws by sitting in at the whites-only Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro.  ”If I were lucky, I would go to jail for a long, long time,” McCain reflected in an interview published in his recent obituary printed in The Washington Post.  ”If I were not so lucky, I would come back to campus, but in a pine box.”

Like many Civil Rights activists, McCain and his peers understood the personal consequences of speaking out.  And they heard the voices of caution — from black neighbors and white, from political leaders and community members — not to stir trouble.  Can’t.  Stop.  Wait.  Don’t.

But they also understood the urgency of the cause.  ”We finally felt we were being hypocritical because we were doing the same thing that everyone else had done, nothing,” McCain recalled.  ”Up to then, we were armchair activists.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Greensboro Four, Woolworths integrated its lunch counter in July 1960.  Their highly publicized efforts inspired student-led sit-ins nation-wide — as well as the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we celebrate not only the legacy of Dr. King, but also the courage and persistence of the Greensboro Four, SNCC, and all the leaders, activists, and organizations who championed the cause for civil rights.

I am inspired by their decision to take action — in spite of the personal risk, in spite of political admonitions to slow down, in spite of lingering doubts as to whether their efforts would ever be effective.  Anger at injustice was not sufficient; change requires action.

Similarly I am inspired by our LearnServe Fellows’ commitment to action in the face of an imperfect world.  Perhaps the personal risks are less for high school and college leaders today working in the United States, but the chorus of  ”Can’t.  Stop.  Wait.  Don’t.” can be just as loud.

How can we keep that chorus in check, so that the realities of today don’t hold back the possibility of tomorrow?

With a message that applies equally to the urgency of activism and the excitement of entrepreneurship, Emily Harper — a 2014 LearnServe Fellow from Annandale High School — reframed those cautionary words into a call to action: “Can’t Stop.  Won’t Wait.”  Let’s start.

  ~ Scott Rechler — Director and CEO, LearnServe International

 

Source: ”Franklin McCain, who helped inspire sit-ins for civil rights as part of the Greensboro Four, dies.  By Emily Langer, The Washington Post.  January 13, 2014.

With appreciation: Aaron Jenkins, Executive Director of Operation Understanding DC.  Emily Harper, LearnServe Fellow, Annandale High School.

 

LearnServe Fellows Prepare to Speak Out

Meet LearnServe Fellows Madison and Alichea, Parkdale High School

When is the last time you saw someone teased, harassed, or picked on simply because of who they are? Did you recognize it as bullying? Stand up to the perpetrator? Console the person these attacks were directed towards?

Madison and Alichea, both students at Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County, ask these questions every day. Both Madison and Alichea have seen bullying first-hand. And both are ready to do something about it.

Read the full post on the Catalogue for Philanthropy blog (published December 11, 2013).

 

LearnServe Innovators Coffee House: Thursday, Dec. 12., 2013 

LearnServe invites you to meet Madison, Alichea, and the other members of the 2014 class of LearnServe Fellows as they debut their social venture ideas at the 7th Annual Innovators Coffee House, tomorrow, December 12, 2013. The LearnServe Fellows will offer a series of 30-second “elevator pitches” on the causes they have chosen to address and the solutions they plan to design and implement this spring.

For details or to RSVP for the 7th Annual Innovators Coffee House, visit http://learn-serve.org/learnserve-fellows-events/.

 

10×10: Julia

Julia Peck

LearnServe Fellow 2011

 

We’re often told, especially during our childhoods, that anyone can go out and change the world. The immense effort, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and collaboration that social change requires is veiled behind the fierce positivity in that statement.  Because it’s better for people to think social change is easy and not hesitate to get involved. Right?!

Almost.  One critical detail was left out of the notion that everyone can positively change the world.  Julia Child captured it best in her monumental cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Child and her coauthors wrote, “Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere…with the right instruction.”

With the right instruction.  For added accuracy, Child could have told us we need a pinch of experience as well.  She was on to something about croissant-making.  But that same logic also applies to social change-making: the makers can be anyone, but we need a little know-how.

Okay, that’s nice, but I am sixteen-year-old Julia Peck and I want to change the world astronomically. Who is going to instruct me? Where am I going to get social change experience more meaningful than my own improvisations?

LearnServe International answered me, as it has answered hundreds of other students asking the same question.  LearnServe got me thinking about community service as a skill and not just a hobby.

I was asked on the first day of the LearnServe Fellows Program to think of problems in my community that made me angry. The list each Fellow made was long and daunting, but LearnServe’s advice to us was both encouraging and practical: pick the issue and the scale that you have the potential power to change.  The goal was not to do service because it looks good and feels great, but to work towards a solution. So, before we could even think about starting to serve, the work and learning began.

One year later I found myself in the kindergarten classroom of a DC public elementary school, one school district away from my own, shaking hands with the principal as he congratulated me on and thanked me for the launch of my LearnServe project.

I had zeroed in on the issue of early foreign language education.  I had grown increasingly disturbed that the advantages of learned bilingualism – increased cognitive ability, enhanced literacy, travel and exchange and fellowship opportunities, and future opportunities in the job market – were not being offered to all the students of the nation’s capital. Foreign language learning is exponentially more successful when started at an early age.  Yet my school system missed this opportunity and began offering students – especially at under-resourced schools – language classes in high school, which is often too late.

With a LearnServe education, a Youth Venture seed grant, an entrepreneurship award, and a request from an enthusiastic principal backing me, I began running a free after-school French learning program called the B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. (Building Universal Thinking Through Early Rearing in Foreign Languages for Youth) Initiative for kindergarteners at Garrison Elementary School. Families voluntarily enroll their children in the program, which meets twice a week and uses a curriculum designed by the team of advanced high school student-teachers and professional French instructors.

The B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. Initiative just entered its third year of operation, retaining students from previous years to build on their knowledge and expanding to new classes of kindergarteners. When the DC School Board threatened to close down Garrison for budgetary reasons, the Garrison parent association demanded protection for the school and various improvements. Among them: a foreign language program integrated into the daytime curriculum, for all students.  This dream has yet to be realized and the fight is still in progress, but we are closer to the ultimate goal of a non-profit: eliminating the need and putting itself out of business.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but LearnServe taught me that.

I’m now just a supporter and admirer of the new, younger directors of The B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. Initiative, but social change work remains at the core of my being. At Columbia University, where I’m a sophomore studying anthropology and linguistics, I serve on the executive board of the Alternative Break Program to advise, fund, and train students for sustainable, solution-based service travel projects. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, work, and learn myself, too – in Nicaragua with an educational non-profit and in Louisiana each spring break with the Columbia Habitat for Humanity trip I run. I will hopefully spend next fall in a human rights and multiculturalism program studying social change in Morocco and doing my own research.

All of this means I’m still doing a lot of thinking about social change and how it should be done – learning and serving. It means that every day I’m building on a foundation that took root the day I started the Fellows program three years ago. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll be building on it for life.

 

Julia Peck graduated from the LearnServe Fellows program in 2011.  She is a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and is a student at Columbia University.

LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)

Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.

 

10×10: Richa

Richa Kalsi

LearnServe Fellow 2008

 

I always intended to go to medical school. For a long time, though, my interest in medicine was purely in the science—it was incredible to me that I could use the science I loved to learn to make a difference in the lives of patients.

However, after getting into the social entrepreneurship environment, my motivations changed.  My first Fellows meeting back in high school was really exciting.  This was an opportunity for me to create and lead a program that could have a positive impact on my community.  The fact that I could do this at the age of 17 was incredibly empowering.

I partnered with Aleah Bowie, a friend from my high school to create our venture, Live Green, Learn Green.  We recruited high school students to tutor and babysit after school and used the money we got from that towards buying energy efficiency kits for families in the Montgomery County, MD area.  We partnered with Bethesda Help, a local organization, to distribute our care packages.

In the first year we raised almost $2,000 – enough to offer care packages to two dozen families.  Last summer we decided to go back to our venture, but to switch the theme from energy efficiency to poverty and hunger.  We are hoping this will be a sustainable way of obtaining resources from the community, resources we can use to purchase food to donate locally.

The Fellows Program taught me this passion for always being engaged, for being involved in the community at all times, and showed me that anyone can (and should) try to make a meaningful contribution to their community.  I am always looking for some kind of mechanism for doing just that, and sticking with it. That passion led me to become a volunteer EMT at my Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad during college, where I am now a preceptor for EMT trainees.

Now that I have started medical school at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine in Baltimore, I find that my desire to give back to my community has not faded in the slightest. To be honest, moving to Baltimore has been a shock.  Between homelessness, poverty, and addiction, the vicinity of the School of Medicine and the hospital is in bad shape.  I have been aching to take some kind of action since I moved here this summer.

A part of my interest in medicine is still academic, but my passion for social entrepreneurship is as strong now as it was in high school as a Fellow.  Ultimately, starting a medical non-profit will be my measure for success in my medical career. I have the privilege to gain medical knowledge and skills, so I want to use it in a way that it can impact those who need it the most.

 

Richa Kalsi graduated from the LearnServe Fellows Program in 2008.  Richa is a graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and the University of Maryland, is currently a student at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine in Baltimore.  She is founder of Live Green, Learn Green.

LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011).

Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.

10×10: Daniel

Daniel Casey

LearnServe Fellow 2008

 

We had just painted a school building in a small rural village in Guatemala, and I was being chased by a horde of paint-covered kids.  I was half goofing off, and half actually trying to outdistance myself from the kids because I didn’t want to get paint on my still-clean clothes.

It didn’t work.  I still have the paint stains to corroborate the story.

What dawned on me was how wonderful it was that I, an American with poor Spanish, was actually playing with Guatemalan kids.  I realized that most travelers to developing countries don’t get to see this side – both the exuberant potential and the very real inequalities.

LearnServe was the catalyst for the pattern my life has taken.  I must admit that my venture never did make it off the ground.  I had planned to start a business in selling recycled computer parts.  But meeting environmental activist Majora Carter; learning about climate change at the EPA; and joining the larger social entrepreneurship movement shaped my interest in the environment and fueled my passion for social change.  My life has definitely trended towards social entrepreneurship.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the EPA, Navy Yard, and Ashoka’s Youth Venture.

Recently I traveled with a group of fellow college students to Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras – how I ended up playing with kids in a Guatemalan village.  Our goal was to both learn from and help the communities we visited – we would conduct community assessments, and then propose a self-sustaining social venture that would address the community’s problems.  It was a daunting task given that we didn’t stay long enough in one area to have serious impact.  But I found it refreshing to experience education that uses real-world problems and churns out real-world solutions, rather than hypotheticals on a piece of paper.

I am excited now to have the opportunity to explore social and environmental topics in greater depth.  I have just completed researching an environmental policy paper on how the materiality of a coal power plan (e.g. where it is and what it spews out) and its distribution of positives (e.g. tax revenue and jobs) and negatives (e.g. CO2 and mercury) have shaped resistance to the coal plant.  I was interested in understanding how proximity to the coal plant changed local politicians’ perceptions – and their stance in the debate.

My current research has led me from coal power plants to analysis of land use in the Yucatan.  Using GIS / remote sensing and mapping tools, we are looking at the intersection of trade flows, pasture increases, and cattle consumption.

Sometimes my story feels more like an exercise in random luck than anything else.  But the more I reflect, the more I realize that I have LearnServe to thank for introducing me to social entrepreneurship, and triggering my passion for environmental work.

 

Dan Casey graduated from the LearnServe Fellows Program in 2008.  He is a graduate of Woodson High School and is now a student at William and Mary.

LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)

Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.

10×10: Melanie

Melanie Barlow

LearnServe Fellow 2010

 

I love to dance.  I’m absolutely horrible at it, but I can’t help myself.  The other day, my mother walked into my room and found me attempting to dougie to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”  We had a good laugh at my expense, and then got to chatting.

Our conversation covered a range of subjects – including how we both love the song “Man in the Mirror.”  It has a message a lot like we’re taught in LearnServe programs.  MJ says we should make positive change in the world, but we should also take a close look at ourselves in the process.

Last year I took a month-long service trip to India, which underscored this very lesson.  Over the years, I’ve started a number of fairly successful ventures, and I’ve done some great things for meaningful causes, and in the process, I have realized how very hard it can be to be that positive change.

In India, I traveled with a group of students from my university and our main purpose was teaching English to Tibetan refugees.  I was exposed to extreme poverty and many other challenges associated with being a refugee living in India.  Many of the people I met are struggling to make ends meet, and they experienced significant trauma in their flight from Chinese-occupied Tibet.  And yet, nearly all of the people I met found a way to be happy.

After I returned home, I looked around my bedroom and all the stuff I had.  And I thought about how frequently I was grumpy or annoyed, and how very silly it all was.  I am so lucky!  I am surrounded by people that love me and I have the freedom to do what I want with my life.  And what I want is to be happy, and to spread that happiness as much as I can.

LearnServe helped me figure out what makes me truly happy. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. LearnServe empowered me to launch Woodson4Haiti, a school-wide fundraising campaign to support relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti.  That initial LearnServe venture project soon spawned Woodson4Pakistan and Woodson4Japan.  We raised several thousand dollars, all through the hard work of high school students.

The lessons I learned at LearnServe stayed with me after high school. Spring semester of 2012, my first year as a Tulane University undergrad, I won $5,000 through a business plan competition to launch Sudz Soap.  Sudz is a student owned and operated L3C business that sells all-natural bars of soap in the United States and uses the proceeds to implement sanitation improvement projects abroad. This past summer I went back to India with a Sudz team and worked with Indian and Tibetan non-profits to pilot our sanitation programs in India. I’ve found that this kind of work makes me happy.

I think Michael Jackson would be proud of me.  I’ve started making some changes in my life, like trying to be more caring, compassionate, and loving.  I’m giving more and buying less.  And that has given me the energy and focus to pursue a social business that has the power to make a real difference in people’s lives.  All of this feels really good.

So take a little time today – maybe a spontaneous dance break – and think about how you can make yourself happy, so that you can spread that happiness to others.

 

Melanie Barlow graduated from the LearnServe Fellows program in 2010.  She is a graduate of W.T. Woodson High School and is a student at Tulane University.

LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)

Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.