Where are they now? Checking in with teen changemakers

Oct 30, 2019

In 2018, Ashoka partnered with T-Mobile and the T-Mobile Foundation to host the first-annual Changemaker Challenge — a competition supporting young people across the U.S. with big ideas for transforming their world.

Thirty winning teams attended the Changemaker Lab at T-Mobile headquarters, where they had the chance to workshop their ideas with experts and peers. At the same time, students bonded with each other over shared interests — things like social issues, school, music, and (of course), memes.

Over the last year, teams have put their learning into action and taken their projects to new levels. We’re excited to share how youth are evolving their ideas to make an even deeper impact.

The Yellow Tulip Project

When Julia was a sophomore in high school, her two closest friends took their own lives. Struggling with her own feelings and wanting to inspire others, Julia created The Yellow Tulip Project, a community with the common goal of smashing the stigma surrounding mental illness — and providing hope.

In the last year, the project has taken off.

“Before [the Lab in] Seattle, we were a small, local non-profit with a dedicated handful of local students who liked our message and were helping out,” Julia says. “After winning the CEO Top Pick, [an] incredible honor, we have blasted off onto the national stage and now have ambassadors in 30 states and are even growing internationally, with youth from Barbados, Aruba, and Japan getting on board.”

As a youth-driven organization, The Yellow Tulip project is working to expand and engage its youth leaders. The organization now hosts community conversations called “Facing Stigma: Creating Solutions.” In January, Julia and the YTP team hosted a full-day retreat, “2019 Call to Action,” that focused on mental health, physical health and storytelling training for the ambassadors, which they are replicating in other communities.

YTP also created a photo exhibit, “I Am More: Facing Stigma,” to show that mental illness does not look any certain way, and people are more than their mental health challenges. The exhibit, which includes models representing many races, ages, sexualities, genders and religions, will now be a semi-permanent show at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

“Our growth and momentum is incredible and we are so grateful for the tools we gained from our time in Seattle,” Julia says.

Urban Beet

When Chander toured his high school cafeteria, he discovered an empty “vegetable” refrigerator — and saw french fries being served as the vegetable of the week.

Realizing that many students could not afford off-campus lunch and school lunches were missing nutritious produce, Chander saw a chance to connect students and their families with a local rooftop garden run by his family friends. He created Urban Beet, an urban rooftop farming program to help distribute fresh greens and healthy produce to school food pantries, cafeterias and local communities.

“Thanks in part to the generous financial support I received from T-Mobile and Ashoka, I have been able to build a “carbon capture farm” at my school. It has become a living, breathing ecosystem that is home to seven-foot sunflowers and monarch butterflies,” Chander says.

The team has since used the space to offer summer field trips to local homeless youth. Urban Beet also delivers produce from the school farm and a local rooftop farm to the school’s food pantry and now a homeless shelter. Soon, the total amount of donated food will reach 1,500 pounds.

Standing Tall

Alexandria started volunteering in Gainesville, Florida when she was five years old. The first student to ever join the education committee of a local grassroots organization, she’s passionate about changing the county’s racial achievement gap, which is the greatest disparity in the state.

Alexandria and her partner, Gianna, submitted their strategy — to use mentorship and community service to close the achievement gap — to the Changemaker Challenge in 2018. At the time, the project was still in the idea stage.

Since the Changemaker Challenge, Alexandria and her team launched their initiative, Standing Tall — now known as Young Human Rights Changemakers — in spring of 2019, to empower minority and low-income changemakers. The program paired elementary students with university students. Students met with their mentors once a week for six weeks to receive academic guidance and assistance to create a community project and received micro grants of up to $200 for the implementation.

So far, students’ projects have varied widely — from providing school supplies to low-income students, to building native species butterfly gardens. “The projects created by our students directly impacted over 1,000 people in the Gainesville community,” Alexandria says.

Combining academic guidance, career mentorship, and project development allows participating students to grow both personally and academically. Students also develop valuable skills like communication, budgeting, leadership, and teamwork. Alexandria is now working to find funding to run the program in classrooms around the world.

Be a changemaker

Looking to kick-start your own idea? Take a cue from dozens of young changemakers around the world who are already making a difference in areas like education, science, activism, and more over at Lead Young stories.

For practical advice from other young leaders, check out the Young Person’s Guide to Changemaking, or find tools to create lasting change through this new, beautifully-animated video series.

We have a challenge for you, too: pass the inspiration along! It’s never too early to start sharing your own story of changemaking.

Where are they now? Checking in with teen changemakers was originally published in A New Game on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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