LearnServe Alum Yasmine Arrington in Washington Post

We are excited to share that LearnServe alumna Yasmine Arrington, founder of ScholarCHIPS, was featured in the Washington Post.  (In case you missed it, click on the image below for the online edition.)

Columnist Petula Dvorak has followed Yasmine from when she first pitched ScholarCHIPS at the LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair in 2010 all the way to her graduation from Elon University last Saturday.  ScholarCHIPS is breaking the cycle of incarceration through college scholarships, mentorship, dialogue, and advocacy on behalf of children of incarcerated parents.  We are inspired by Yasmine’s example, and look forward to all that she – and all our other LearnServe alumni graduating college this spring – will accomplish as they enter the next phase of their careers.


Yasmine headline

Yasmine article

To read the full story online, click on the image above or here.  You may also enjoy Petula Dvorak’s 2010 and 2012 Washington Post columns about Yasmine and ScholarCHIPS.


Tracing Innovation

Introducing the 2015 LearnServe Innovation Award Winners

The person next to you on the Metro sneezes.  Was it allergies?  The flu?  Something worse?  As the scenarios race through your mind, they boil down to one question: Will I get sick too?

Now there’s an app for that.

Meet Rohan Suri, founder of kTrace, a tool that is changing how we fight epidemics.  The primary tool used to fight epidemics — think Ebola, measles, or flu — is to identify and isolate all contacts of an infected individual.  But can you really remember everyone you saw over three weeks, before you begin exhibiting any symptoms?  And what about the strangers you encountered, but can never identify?

The app kTrace uses Bluetooth technology to record who you come into contact with, and for how long.  When a user reports feeling unwell, patients and medical professionals can authorize kTrace to send a notification to all contacted individuals so they can monitor their own health, and seek immediate medical attention before they infect others.  (The app is available for Android here.)

Rohan is a winner of the 2015 LearnServe Innovation Award (Fairfax County category).  He represents one of the 46 student teams led by LearnServe Fellows from across the DC Metro area who pitched their social venture ideas at the 6th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 23 at the Maret School.

Winners of the Innovation Award receive pro bono professional consultations from professionals at Deloitte, ICF International, M&T Bank, and Social Driver.



DC | Winner, DC Public and Charter Schools Category

Jamese Mangum, Black Girls Love STEM Too

Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter High School

Jamese looks at the lack of African American women in the STEM field, and realizes that unless we intervene early in the pipeline — at the middle and high school level — this pattern will continue to repeat itself.  Black Girls Love STEM Too offers a tiered solution: established professionals will share their experiences with the young women at her school; these high school students will in turn visit elementary and middle schools to inspire, teach, and mentor the girls there.  They will share the stories of successful African American women in STEM, and host career fairs to expose students to potential career opportunities.


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

Brendan Epton, District Grinding

E.L. Haynes Public Charter School

Brendan watches his peers struggling to find jobs, and discouraged by a staggering unemployment rate: 14.2% for young people ages 16-24.  The equivalent figure is 21.4% for African Americans.  He realizes that DC youth who need jobs need two things: a) the skills to find jobs, and b) the people who can help them secure those jobs.  District Grinding teaches students how to fill out job applications, dress for interviews, and communicate in interviews.  Already he has lined up representatives from Safeway and Target to meet with him and his peers.


MD | Winner, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Public Schools

Chimey Sonam, Parallels Project

Montgomery Blair

Early in Chimey’s childhood, interaction with peers from outside her cultural bubble opened her eyes and broadened her perspective.  Yet she sees too many students in her county attending schools and living in neighborhoods that are racially and socio-economically homogenous.  The Parallels Project will bring together middle school students from different backgrounds, to create a space where they can embrace diversity and connect with peers outside their comfort zones.


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

Ishaan Parikh, KAST: Advanced

Montgomery Blair

For Ishaan, inspiration came the moment his sister — a student at a magnet math and science program — came home and declared “I hate science.”  KAST: Advanced builds on Kids Are Scientists Too, a non-profit founded four years ago by then LearnServe Fellow Jessica Yang.  KAST offers fun, free, and interactive scientific education to elementary school students, inspiring them to pursue careers in science.  KAST: Advanced expands this model to middle school students.  KAST: Advanced programs have already taken root at Takoma Park Middle School, and will be spreading across Montgomery County.


VA | Winner, Fairfax County Public Schools

Rohan Suri, kTrace

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Concerned about recent outbreaks of Ebola, measles, and flu, Rohan wondered whether technology might empower ordinary citizens to slow the spread of disease.  Most epidemics are mapped through contact tracing — asking each infected individual to remember who he or she has had recent contact with, and then isolating those individuals.  kTrace uses bluetooth technology to facilitate this process, alerting known acquaintances who might have been overlooked, as well as random strangers that were in close proximity, that they might have been exposed to the disease.


VA | Runner-up, Fairfax County Public Schools

Raman Khanna, S2S Nutrition

George Marshall

For Raman, it all boils down to nutrition and healthy choices.  He has grown increasingly concerned about the obesity epidemic raging in the United States: 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese; they are more likely to be obese as adults; and they face a significantly greater risk of cardiovascular disease.  Fairfax County’s Program of Studies touches on the importance of exercise in its 7th and 8th grade standards, but barely touches nutrition — not even to explain the county’s own All Star Lunch Program or the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines.  S2S offers a unique student-to-student approach to nutrition education, helping elementary and middle school students make healthy choices.


IND | Winner, Independent Schools

Gaia Jinsi, GirlsGoLearn


Girls coming from all-girls schools are 3 times as likely to become engineers, score up to 50 points higher on the SAT, and are more likely to pursue graduate studies than girls in co-educational environments.  Girls in co-educational environments, therefore, may not be receiving the education that they need or deserve.  GirlsGoLearn plans to partner with DC public and charter schools to bring safe, all-girls learning environments to DC girls through weekend and after-school academic and enrichment opportunities.


IND | Runner-up, Independent Schools

Ryan Hunt, Easy BAC

French International School

Every day, nearly 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.  In 2013, 10,076 people died in drunk driving crashes, and 290,000 were injured.  For Ryan, these statistics are personal: several months ago, four high school students — including one on Ryan’s swim team — were hit by a drunk driver while their car was pulled over on the side of the highway.  Easy BAC is a smartphone app that assesses blood alcohol content, and lets users know whether they should be driving or not.  Users enter their gender, weight, type and number of drinks, and over what period of time, and the calculator estimates blood alcohol levels.  An alarm function allows users to set a time to be reminded to use the calculator.  The app also points users to alternative transportation options available, offering a simple and easy approach to avoiding drunk driving.

Inspired by what you’ve read?  Consider a gift to LearnServe.  Contributions will prepare us to kick off training for a brand new cohort of LearnServe Fellows in September!  Donate online at www.learn-serve.org/donate.


Making Way for Generation Z

Reflections on Alexandra Levit’s New York Times feature on the coming of age of Generation Z

If you’ve spent time around our LearnServe Fellows, Abroad travelers, and alumni, none of these reflections on Generation Z should be a surprise:  They tend to be independent.  They don’t wait for their parents to teach them things or tell them how to make decisions.  They prefer in-person to online interaction.  They are accustomed to engaging with friends all over the world.

Yet, Alexandra Levit shares, organizations are so focused on capturing the talent, energy, and innovation of millennials that they’ve overlooked Generaztion Z rising just behind them.

Sejal Makheja — a LearnServe Fellow from the Holton Arms School quoted in the article — captured it best: these young people “want to take an active role in their communities and their futures.  It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion.”

I’ve excerpted from the article below.  You can find the full story here.  Want to meet some of these Gen Zers yourself?  Check out our LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 23!


Excerpts from “Make Way for Generation Z” by Alexandra Levit, published March 28, 2015 in the New York Times.

It took 10 years before most organizations identified the millennials as a talent issue on fire. By now, the oldest millennials are 35. They aren’t children anymore — in fact, a majority of them are leaders with decision-making power and direct reports. While executives have been fretting over the millennials, though, a new generation is growing up behind the scenes — Generation Z (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask). Within the next three years, Gen Zers will be the college grads in my audiences, and they are poised to be somewhat different from the millennials.

I’ve now had the opportunity to meet lots of Gen Zers, and here’s what I’ve noticed. To start, they tend to be independent. While a 2015 Census Bureau report found that nearly a third of millennials are still living with their parents, Gen Zers are growing up in a healthier economy and appear eager to be cut loose. They don’t wait for their parents to teach them things or tell them how to make decisions. As demonstrated by the teenagers attending the recent Generation Z Conference at American University in Washington, Gen Z is already out in the world, curious and driven, investigating how to obtain relevant professional experience before college. Despite their obvious technology proficiency, Gen Zers seem to prefer in-person to online interaction and are being schooled in emotional intelligence from a young age. Thanks to social media, they are accustomed to engaging with friends all over the world, so they are well prepared for a global business environment.

Among those who attended was Sejal Makheja, 16, a sophomore who lives in McLean, Va. When she was 14, Sejal founded the Elevator Project, an organization that aims to lift people out of poverty through apprenticeship, vocational training and job placement. She said she went to the Gen Z Conference because she wanted to cultivate the skills she’ll need to take the Elevator Project to a national scale.

“The young people at the [Gen Z] conference want to take an active role in their communities and their futures,” she said. “It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion.”

Even well-known organizations will have to rethink their recruiting practices to attract this group, and now is the time to start. Those who want to take advantage of Gen Z talent in the future need to develop relationships today with teenagers in grades seven through 12. Get into their schools, provide mentorship and education, and put yourself in a position to help shape their career decisions. They are eager to listen.

Full story on the New York Times website: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/jobs/make-way-for-generation-z.html?mwrsm=Email&_r=0

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.



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.