Last week, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop to Venture Fellows with LearnServe, an organization that identifies high school students with the passion to make a difference and equips them with the knowledge, business tools and relationships they need to transform their schools and communities. Right now, these inspiring young leaders are in the process of developing their business ideas, building teams, learning to budget, and launching their ventures. So, we focused on cultivating contacts and building a network -- especially, how to work a room, finding the courage to initiate contact, and following up.
By season's end, they'll be pitching their ventures to panels of business and community volunteers at the Venture Fair. This was my introduction to the nonprofit last year. We fielded pitches for a range of projects -- peer-to-peer support of homeless teens, connecting nonprofits and potential supporters, bringing clean water to communities abroad, peer-to-peer ESL tutoring, and gamifying women's history. The fair part of the event is a cacophony of noise, excitement and connection as youth present exhibits.
How did I get involved with LearnServe? I met Co-Founder and CEO Scott Rechler at an advisory board meeting for PeaceFirst, an organization that exists to create the next generation of peacemakers. They view children as natural problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and invest in their ability to see themselves as leaders. Formerly PeaceGames, the organization pivoted a few years ago, releasing its K-8 peacemaking and conflict resolution curriculum to educators and the public for FREE, and started recognizing young social change agents with a national award.
Over the past two years, 15 young peacemakers have each received $25,000 to pursue their social ventures and realize their dreams. PeaceFirst Prize nominees and recipients demonstrate compassion, courage and collaborative change. Ranging in age from 10 to 22, past winners include:
- documentary filmmaker, Babatunde, who is bringing together police and youthin the communities they serve with a training program;
- Isabella, who created Be a Buddy, Not a Bully in her school to encourage kids to be "upstanders" rather than bystanders;
- Justin, who wanted to help educate people about Tourette's syndrome and create bridges of understanding through an annual citywide Tolerance Fair that now draws 3,000 people;
- Amanda, who created Helping Ourselves Overcome Discrimination(WomanHOOD), to teach high school girls of color the skills to become active and important members of the community; and
- Imani, who organized 100 Men Reading, a group of professional businessmen who mentor young people through reading.
This year, PeaceFirst is expecting to surpass 2014's response, with applications from all 50 states anticipated by the March 31 deadline. You can help by nominating a young person who's making a difference in your community, encouraging him or her to apply for the prize, becoming a supporter, or making a donation.
Eric Dawson, friend and Co-founder and CEO of PeaceFirst, began a recent call with supporters by asking about what was happening in our lives that brings joy. Well,LearnServe and PeaceFirst are two of those things that bring me joy. It's a gift to be able to share my lessons with young social entrepreneurs and be inspired by their ventures, and to spread the positive messages of these organizations. And, I hope you will become involved and find joy in them, too.