Young people from all over the country gathered at the nation's capital on Thursday (March 15) for the Campus Champions of Change event at the White House. All 15 finalists were selected by a special White House committee AND invited by the President of the United States himself to well, come to his house! After a public vote, the top 5 vote-getters earned a seat alongside President Barack Obama during the event, in addition to an appearance on mtvU's The Dean List and this here feature on MTV Act!
All 15 young leaders in attendance were incredibly inspiring, to say the least. Each finalist had a role in launching an organization or initiative that embodies the President’s goal to win the future, and MTV Act is honored to celebrate the five finalists! Before yesterday's big event, we met up with the finalists for coffee and to gain more insight on what brought them to this point.
UMASS Amherst Permaculture Initiative, Ryan Harb (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
The UMass Amherst Permaculture Initiative is a unique and cutting edge sustainability program that transforms grass lawns on the campus into diverse, edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable gardens. It's one of the first permaculture initiatives in the country.
+ One word to describe your reaction to making Top 5: Incredible. I thought, this is one of the best opportunities of my life. I'm excited to bring what we're doing to a large number of people.
+ Biggest inspiration in life: The other students who I work with at the university inspire me more than anything because their energy and their passion for doing what we're doing is incredible and it's what keeps me going.
+ Favorite power anthem: "The Boss" by James Brown.
+ Tip for changemaking success: Start small. Start with an idea. If you have that idea, don't be afraid to tell other people and to really follow your heart.
+ How can others get involved in your initiative: We're going to be hosting a conference at UMASS Amherst this summer that is going to encourage and teach other schools to start their own initiative. In general though, just learn more about the word "permaculture" -- once you learn more about it, you may find that this its something you'd want to explore.
The Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, Grace Philipp (Grinnell College)
The Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) was founded in 2007 with the idea that the Grinnell campus community could sustainably contribute to world development through microfinancing small entrepreneurial loans, loaning over $37,000 to more than 191 individuals in over 44 countries. SEG has also expanded to include a Local Loans Project in the Grinnell community (Grinnell, Iowa) that focuses on combating poverty and empowering individuals in desperate situations.
+ One word to describe your reaction to making Top 5: Boom! During phone calls I have with Kyle, another project manager, we use the word "boom" in lieu of a high-five.
+ Biggest inspiration in life: My mom, she's an incredibly strong woman! My friends and co-workers on this project -- they're so passionate, driven, and selfless. We all have other commitments, jobs, and school, and yet we still time to come together and great a project that works. Everyone has been essential in getting us here.
+ Favorite power anthem: "We Are The Champions" by Queen
+ Tip for changemaking success: The biggest thing is to have a really sound mission statement. You need an idea to rally around. It's so easy to have a lot of passionate people who are willing to help people, but to focus on one individual aspect of a problem is absolutely essential. Oh, and make friends with your board!
+ How can others get involved in SEG: If you're in or near Grinnell College, anyone is welcome to join their weekly meetings on Sunday afternoons. Or if you happen to have any international connections or ideas for expansion, they're totally willing to hear you out, too! Tweet them at @SEGrinnell for more.
Swipes for the Homeless, Thach “Tak” Nguyen (UCLA)
Swipes for the Homeless (SFTH) collects unused university student meals, or meal swipes, from students that are not permitted to be rolled over into the next academic semester and would otherwise go to unused. SFTH works with the campus administration to choose and purchase specific nutritious foods, which are then distributed throughout the Los Angeles area to shelters as well as individuals living on the streets.
+ One word to describe your reaction to making Top 5: Manic. Obviously we were all really excited. There were about 10 of us in my apartment, and I was jumping up and down. People were saying that I looked like a little butterfly.
+ Biggest inspiration in life: My mentees, the people I have been lucky to see grow from freshman to incredible student leaders. It's rewarding to see them grow up!
+ Favorite power anthem: Taylor Swift "Long Live"
+ Tip for changemaking success: You can't do it alone. You have to be able to inspire and spread your message in a way that creates sustainable leaders invested in the cause.
+ How can others get involved in Swipes for the Homeless: Start your own drive, 10 other schools have already duplicated our initiative and started a chapter in their community. Contact us if you want to start a chapter!
Moneythink, Ted Gonder (University of Chicago)
Moneythink sets out to empower local urban high school students to build a better future through peer-mentoring in financial literacy and entrepreneurship education. In under three years, Moneythink has scaled to 17 urban campus communities nationwide, mentoring over 1,700 urban high school students by training over 300 college students to deliver 10-week courses in financial literacy and entrepreneurship education.
+ One word to describe your reaction to making Top 5: Humbled. Humbled by the power of community, the power of relationships, the power of a cause that can unite people. We were able to reach 2 million computer screens through the voting process -- 2 million impressions are 2 million seeds of hope planted in the minds of people, and that just means a generation is getting inspired about empowering themselves for the future.
+ Biggest inspiration in life: My dad -- he grew up in a financially-disadvantaged situation and worked jobs through his entire childhood and through college to fund his education. From growing up in rural poverty, he's now a very successful senior technician at a reputable consulting firm. He was able to provide me with so many opportunities he never had. And way more off in the clouds, Richard Branson -- I think he's a total bad ass! He does epic things and gives back, it's inspiring.
+ Favorite power anthem: Skrillex "Right In"
+ Tip for changemaking success: Just get started. The easy attainable thing is that people think that by doing something that hasn't been tried before, you're somehow taking a risky action. People think that by traveling the untraveled path you're taking a big social risk, a financial risk, and that you can't do it -- when in fact, it's the less risky thing in the long run because what you're doing is practicing creation. There's no limit to creativity!
+ How can others get involved in Moneythink: If you're in high school, email Moneythink to bring them to your school. If you're in college, email Moneythink to start a chapter at your school -- the time is now.
Full Circle Food Pantry, Julia Lyon (University of Arkansas)
The Volunteer Action Center (VAC) Board, a program of the Center for Community Engagement, launched a student food pantry in February 2010 to serve the needs of students on and off campus who are in personal crisis and do not have the financial resources to meet all of their nutritional needs.
+ One word to describe your reaction to making Top 5: Incredible!
+ Biggest inspiration in life: Family.
+ Favorite power anthem: Space Jam.
+ Tip for changemaking success: Find a mentor, someone who believes in your project and in you as much as you do.
+ How can others get involved in your initiative: To get involved with Full Circle, or to create a pantry of your own on your campus, contact us!
Watch the entire event from the White House below! Inspired to start your own initiative? Look into applying for a seed grant from DoSomething.org by taking action below, too.
Watch Obama & the #WHchamps
Watch President Obama address the Campus Champions of Change, and an insightful panel featuring the 5 winners.
Do Something Grant
Be a champion of change! Apply for a DoSomething.org grant to help you get your organization started.