Blog | The HALO Effect
- Posted on 08/05/2014 by TeenNickBlogger
"Helping is more than our hobby," reads the slogan for Freedom Chairs, a non-profit organization that transforms old wheelchairs for those in need.
Since the organization began, founder and CEO Tim Balz has combined his technical robotic skills with his inventive spirit to give the gift of mobility in his hometown of Indiana and beyond. Check out our exclusive Q&A with the August HALO Effect Honoree, and learn more about Tim's incredibly inspiring story!
What inspired you to begin your organization Freedom Chairs? How did you come to focus on this specific cause?
During my sophomore year of high school I noticed a student named Steven Scholl who was stuck in the hallway because he was unable to move his manual wheelchair. I got in contact with his parents and asked why he wasn't using an electric wheelchair, and they said that his insurance denied the request because he wasn't "disabled enough." I tried to fix a wheelchair that my neighbor gave me to play with on our FIRST Robotics team, but it turned out to be unfix-able. I was determined to help my new friend Steven so I traded my moped for a wheelchair that was repairable. I customized the wheelchair to be exactly what Steven needed and gave it to him just before he graduated. The smile he had when we gave him the wheelchair was so incredible that I developed a passion for helping people in similar situations to Steven, and that's how Freedom Chairs started.
How has Freedom Chairs grown since it started in 2011?
Freedom Chairs has given away more than 85 wheelchairs since we started in 2011. We have dozens of wheelchairs in our workshop and have work days nearly every weekend to repair and rebuild wheelchairs.
What is the process that goes into building a Freedom Chair? What kinds of features does a typical wheelchair have?
When we get an old chair donated to us, it is typically in pretty poor condition. We tear the chair down and repair anything that isn't in like-new condition, and rebuild it to make is as though the recipient gets a brand new chair. A typical wheelchair will have an assortment of features ranging from power seating to lights and turn signals. We have even gotten a few chairs that use head control for someone who is paralyzed.
How did you learn how to customize these electric wheelchairs?
I learned to customize the wheelchairs through the skills I gained in FIRST Robotics, and the countless hours spent tinkering with the chairs that were donated. I would try to understand how and why everything worked on the chair.
With Freedom Chairs, you saw a peer in need and took action. What advice would you give to someone who has a desire to help others, but doesn't know where to start?
If someone has a desire to help others, the most important advice that I can give is to look for ways to make a difference, because not everyone in need has a voice. Volunteering for community service through school clubs is how I got started helping others, so that is a great place to start. The biggest thing is to never let people convince you that someone else will come along and fill a need that you find.
To learn more about Tim and his organization, check out the clip below!
- Posted on 07/02/2014 by Rachel1016
It's the beginning of the month and that means it's time to honor teens who Help And Lead Others in a big way. Join us in congratulating our HALO Effect honoree for July, Zachary Certner!
Zach is a eighteen year-old New Jersey student who co-founded SNAP, Inc. (Special Needs Athletic and Awareness Programs), a non-profit organization that aims to help autistic children across the globe improve their social and athletic skills through sports programs. Check our our exclusive Q&A to learn more about Zachary's incredible dedication to this cause!
What inspired you to co-found SNAP, Inc.? What were the beginning stages of the organization like?
I was inspired to get involved with special needs children because a close family friend was diagnosed with severe autism. In my community there are limited programs for special needs children, since sports have always been a passion of mine, I felt strongly about giving every child the opportunity to be part of a team. I was disturbed seeing kids excluded from sports, lunch tables, and even friendships just because they were different. This action led to the creation of my 501c(3) non-profit organization SNAP: Special Needs Athletic and Awareness Programs.
To translate this idea into a reality, I needed financing and community involvement. To accomplish this massive undertaking I contacted the Board of Education, local recreational departments, mayors, and other community leaders; fundraising became a necessity and I worked endlessly to locate and contact potential donors.
What do you think is uniquely important about pairing athletic programs with Special Needs advocacy?
SNAP was formed to help improve the lives of children who suffer from autism and other disabilities. Currently, it is estimated that one in every 84 children is diagnosed with autism. Autism can prevent children from learning, behaving, and communicating effectively. This often leads to bullying and discrimination in the classroom. My hope was that by providing autistic and special needs children with athletic and social programming, I could improve their physical abilities, communication skills, and self-esteem. I created a regular schedule of free sports clinics to give special needs children an opportunity to learn and to play all with peer mentors. My philosophy is Kids Helping Kids; a direct contrast from special needs children's usual interaction with adult doctors, therapists, and teachers.
How did you work to expand SNAP's influence abroad to countries like Guatemala, Tanzania and China?
After running our sports clinics for five years in New Jersey, we understand that sports is the way to make everyone feel equal and give them the confidence they need everyday. I felt that the special needs children should learn to give back as well, so we conducted sports drive to collect equipment for children in Tanzania.In 2010, I traveled to Tanzania on the first ever mission trip, providing the children of Sibusisio with donations and sports equipment. The children were especially enthusiastic about soccer, immediately breaking off in game after blowing up the newly donated soccer balls. Everyone was equal on the field, disregarding gender, race, and any disability.
In 2011, SNAP expanded on a global level and partnered with the first ever special needs school in Nebaj, Guatemala. Thanks to an incredible organization Mayan Hope (link), SNAP hopes to continue helping special needs children around the world. We purchased all necessary materials from schoolbooks and supplies, to desks, chairs, and water purifiers. With the help of Mayan Hope, we hope to raise the necessary funds to secure a permanent and safe learning atmosphere for children with special needs. In a country with no education and awareness on autism, a supportive environment is crucial and necessary.
Can you tell us a little bit about the sensitivity training SNAP offers to student volunteers?
Through a series of presentations and hands on modules, I show children the challenges and frustrations faced by their disabled classmates. Using blind folds, mirrors, and balance balls, my training allows students to experience the difficulties and frustrations of various disabilities. It is through the training that the mainstream students walk in the shoes of various disabilities. It is the moment that they feel how frustrated they become doing simple activities that we take for granted everyday, that I know I have reached them.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions about Special Needs children?
I think the biggest misconception is that they are just like you and I, they just might not be able to express what they are feeling. They want to be accepted and included even if they are different. People assume that because these children have difficulty interacting with their peers, they are unfriendly or shy. But it is that they cannot communicate their desire for a friendship like we can. They also do not show emotion so that is often difficult interpret what they are feeling.
Can you recall one memorable moment, big or small, when you realized you were truly making a difference?
I never imagined that someone who couldn't speak could say so much. Growing up with our family friend was the foundation for my organization. I always wondered if I truly was making a difference in these children's lives. Those thoughts changed, however, when I met Charlie, also afflicted with autism.
Charlie had been part of SNAP for many years, but struggled each session. When he walked into my clinic's gymnasium the each session, I saw how apprehensive his parents were and wondered each week if he would come back. Charlie remained expressionless as I handed him off to his volunteer to begin practicing basketball. Months past and we barely made improvements. At the clinic, I found Charlie sitting on the floor biting his fingers ferociously. I sat beside him and held his hands away from his mouth. His eyes focused on me, but his face remained expressionless. Charlie then grabbed his electronic interpreter and slowly typed on the keyboard. As soon as he finished, he dropped the computer and ran to other side of the gym. As I picked it up to return it to his parents, I could see what Charlie had written - "C-l-i-n-i-c_y-e-a-h". That was the moment that I knew I had to continue. The magic that is created is unimaginable in the clinics.
To learn more about Zachary and his organization, check out the clip below!
- Posted on 06/04/2014 by Rachel1016
The HALO Effect continues to spread as we honor teens who make a difference in a big way. Are you ready to be inspired? Join us in congratulating our HALO Effect honoree for the month of June, Neha Gupta!
Neha is a seventeen year-old Philadelphia student who founded Empower Orphans, a non-profit organization aimed at addressing worldwide problems related to orphaned and abandoned children. The goal of the organization is to break the cycle of poverty by providing these children with fundamental education skills and basic healthcare. To date, the organization has impacted 25,000 children around the world. Check our our exclusive Q&A to learn more about Neha's remarkable accomplishments!
What inspired you to start Empower Orphans? What were the beginning stages of your organization like?
Empower Orphans was born as a result of my annual trips to visit my grandparents in India. As part of our visits, I would volunteer at the Baal Kunj Orphanage along with my parents. It was there that my entire perspective on life changed and matured. As I listened to the stories of the children and heard them weep, I was able to feel their pain in my heart. Placing myself in their shoes, I identified with them. I pictured myself living in rural India. I pictured myself being abandoned by the two people I love most. I pictured myself sleeping on a cold floor with my bones jutting out from malnutrition. These children of my age and ethnicity seemed so similar to me, and yet, we were living different lives. It was shocking to hear that they would likely never escape the clutches of poverty because they lacked access to fundamental education and basic healthcare. I felt as though it was my responsibility to take action to help them lead better lives. Through this experience Empower Orphans was created.
Empower Orphans has many areas of impact for orphaned and underprivileged children including food, healthcare and education. How do you identify which areas and/or children are in need of which kind of support?
On a geographical basis, we have concentrated our efforts mainly in Northern India and the Philadelphia region. The operating principle of Empower Orphans has always been not only to support children but also be able to verify and measure the impact. My father's extended family lives in Northern India and is regularly verifying that all donations and services are utilized by and for the children and there is no theft. Additionally, I visit India every year to identify new projects by talking directly to the children and then execute the projects. On a regular basis, we receive requests to support orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa and other parts of Asia. Once we have validated these organizations and have a verification process in place, we will expand our coverage.
What do you think is the key to successful fundraising?
Networking, passion and perseverance.
What has been one of your proudest accomplishments with Empower Orphans?
It has been heartwarming to see how the individuals helped by Empower Orphans are thriving. One example is Meena, a young woman living in a village in northern India. When she was 18, Meena's father lost his job and the family had no other income. Meena believed she had to step up to help the family, so she enrolled in the sewing center established by Empower Orphans. She used her new skills to start her own business and with the money earned, she not only provided for her family, but she also brought electricity to her house for the first time. This enabled her brother, Ram, to study at night and pass his electrician's exam. Now both support their entire family. On one of my recent trips to India, Meena invited me to her home, a small room shared among six people, as a way of thanking me for the opportunity she was given. As Meena cried tears of happiness, she said, "Neha didi, dhanyavaad" or "Neha, my sister, thank you." I started to cry as well, humbled to be considered as part of her family and share their hope.
If someone wanted to become involved in Empower Orphans, where should he or she begin?
There are multiple ways that someone can get involved with Empower Orphans:
1) Identify your cause and start your own fundraising team on our website
2) Volunteer for our projects in India and US
4) Spread the word about Empower Orphans through social media
To learn more about Neha and her organization, check out the clip below!
- Posted on 05/07/2014 by Rachel1016
Eve Nerima is an 18-year-old high school student with a unique vision and unrelenting commitment to helping others. Originally from Kenya but currently residing in Texas, our HALO Effect honoree for the month of May has drawn on her own personal experiences to not only build compassion for those less fortunate, but help them build better lives. As the chapter president of the Junior World Affairs Council (JWAC) of Dallas/Forth Worth, Eve has devoted her time and energy to raising awareness for children's causes around the globe. From organizing food and clothing drives to holding marathons and other fundraisers, she is a fearless agent of change.
Check out Eve's full bio here and check out our exclusive Q&A below to learn more about all of her amazing work!
Congratulations on your HALO Effect award! Can you give us a little background on what Save the Children's Junior World Affair Council (JWAC) does? How does it differ from the larger Save the Children organization?
Save the Children's Junior World Affairs Council is part of the larger World Affairs Council that has over 45 similar organizations in the Dallas/Forth Worth area. JWAC, as we locally call it, is purposed to help my fellow high school students gain insight, understanding, and information to keep abreast of international affairs. We participate in international community service projects like the Save the Children Marathon Run as well as host Cultural Corners that enable high school students gain insight into the day-to-day life of someone living in another country.
What is one of the most meaningful projects you've completed with Save the Children's JWAC?
The most meaningful project that I have been fortunate to complete with JWAC would be the Save the Children Marathon Run that was on October 19th, 2013. This run brought together students from both sides of our friendly high school rivalry in an effort to raise money to help kids survive, thrive and save lives in the hope of a better future. In collaboration with Save Children, our teams and other teams in the United States and around the world raised a total of $92,512. The money that we helped raise continues to help over 74 million children who benefit from programs organized by Save the Children here in the U.S., as well as around the world.
From your experiences living in Kenya, you've witnessed firsthand how many children are in need of help. How can other young people become educated on the world issues that may not affect their daily lives?
Over the short course of my life, I have found that information destroys ignorance. My experiences while living in Kenya act as a torch to educate people about the need to be thankful for the small luxuries that we are fortunate to have. Most of my peers aren't able to connect to other worldly issues since they are stuck in their own bubble, but through sharing our experiences, we all become knowledgeable of our surroundings.
Can you describe some of your responsibilities as president of JWAC? What a huge accomplishment � how did your involvement in the organization lead to holding such an important position?
As President of JWAC I am responsible for organizing community service projects such as the Save the Children Marathon Run and Kiva Loans project and supervising the Cultural Corner presentations. Being President takes so much more than the simple task of overseeing projects. JWAC members would look up to me for leadership and guidance. My experiences made me a role model to them and even though most people would run from such a high pedestal, I knew I had to step up.
If someone wanted to become involved with Save the Children, where should he/she begin?
If someone wanted to get involved with Save the Children, I would advise them to start at their school or community. As long as you're passionate about a cause, anything is achievable. I would also advise them to get in contact with Frances Moore, the Fundraising Manager of Schools & Community Organizations. Any leader needs a strong confidant and she happened to be mine.
- Posted on 04/22/2014 by Rachel1016
Happy Earth Day, everybody! The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and Mother Earth is waking from its winter slumber! Every year on April 22, Earth Day comes around to remind us how important it is to protect our precious planet. And now that spring is in full swing, what better way to celebrate the all of the beautiful things this world has to offer than by making a difference? Here are five easy ways to celebrate Earth Day every day!
FIVE EASY WAYS TO CELEBRATE EARTH DAY (ALL YEAR ROUND!)
1. Check your Earth-saving skills: Are you doing good for the environment or are you leaving a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint? Take our two quizzes 'How Green Are You?' and 'How Will You Save the Planet?' to find out!
2. Recycle your old electronics: Did you know that your old cell phone or digital camera can be reused to make important materials? Don't just throw them away, take your old or unused electronics to an e-waste recycling facility. E-waste can be extremely harmful to landfills, so it's important that your unused devices get discarded properly!
3. Take shorter showers: Don't get us wrong, we like leisurely showers as much as the next person. But does it really take 20 minutes to lather, rinse and repeat? Set a timer for your next shower and see if you can beat the clock! You'll waste less water and your fingers wont get pruny!
4. Pledge an 'Act of Green': Register with Earth Day Network's 'A Billion Acts of Green' campaign to make a contribution (large or small!) to supporting sustainability efforts. Whether its recycling your crayons or planting a garden, there are a billion ways to take action!
5. Go for a walk and enjoy the outdoors: Take a moment to appreciate Mother Nature in all its glory. Find a park and take a stroll or have a picnic; go for a bike ride and explore your own neighborhood; literally stop to smell the roses! Whatever you do, just go outside!
And if you want to really be inspired to make a change, check out the amazing work of two of our former HALO Award winners. Megan Kilroy is a 2009 HALO Award honoree who makes a difference by cleaning up beaches in her hometown. And Denzel Thompson transforms dilapidated lands in his community by planting urban gardens!
There are so many ways to Help And Lead Others to environmental activism, and maybe you or someone you know already works hard to protect our planet. Nominate them to be recognized by the HALO Effect, and make their impact known!
Finally, get in the green spirit with these awesome throwback Degrassi clips! Remember when Jake and Katie bonded over planting a garden? Or when Emma tried to get Sean to help her pick up garbage at the ravine? Check 'em out below!
JAKE AND KATIE PLANT A GARDEN
CLEAN THE RAVINE
EMMA VS. THE TOMATO
What are some of your Earth Day resolutions? Let us know in the comments!
- Posted on 04/02/2014 by Rachel1016
Hey, TeenNick do-gooders, do you feel that? The mighty force of Helping And Leading Others? The HALO Effect continues to spread as we congratulate our HALO Effect honoree for the month of the April!
Meet Teagan Stedman, a high school freshman who brings together the power of music and service to make a serious difference in the lives of kids battling cancer. He's the founder of Shred Kids' Cancer, a non-profit organization whose mission is not only to help raise awareness and support for pediatric cancer, but also use music to hold events that are meaningful and uplifting for kids bravely fighting this terrible disease.
Congratulations on your HALO Effect award! How did you come up with the idea for your organization, Shred Kids' Cancer?
A friend in my school carpool had an older brother who was battling cancer. I wanted to do more than ask, "How's Alex doing?" So I looked into ways I could help other organizations that supported kids with cancer. I found that they had a lot of rules and restrictions about letting kids help, so I thought I should do something myself and thought that other kids would also want to help out.
I knew my friend liked music and was also feeling isolated being out of school for so long, so I thought a concert with a bunch of bands would lift his spirits. I knew other kids bands could help, so I asked them, got the Roxy in Hollywood to agree to be the venue, got Guitar Center to be a sponsor and help us get items for our auction and as well as help with other costs. Then, to attract a crowd, I got Guitar Center to ask some celebrity musicians and Shredfest was born.
The event was a great success. Other kids said they had friends that needed support, so we had another Shredfest the following year and raised a lot of money for pediatric cancer research to benefit more than just one person. Then I realized it was time to make Shredfest an official charity, and I founded Shred Kids Cancer as a corporation and it eventually became a 501c3 public charity [which means that SKC is an official tax-exempt non-profit organization].
What do you think is particularly special about bringing together music and service?
Music has the ability to change people's moods and lift their spirits—especially live music. People can get lost in it. It also has a way of bringing people together to share a common bond. It is almost like another language that we all speak. Music works well with service, as it is a gift, in a way, that allows people to share a common mood and move them to either dance, sing or help each other. Also, whether it be through lyrics or tone, music helps get messages to sink in with people.
When did you start playing guitar? What is your favorite song to play?
I started playing when I was seven years-old. My favorite song to play is my original music with my band Clockwork City—I love improvising and jamming with other musicians on stage.
What is one of your most memorable moments from a recent Shredfest?
It was this last one, Shredfest 6, when Kaitlin's (our "Shredhead" aka someone who is currently battling cancer) mom said, "Shredfest 6 was as good as any 'Make A Wish'! Not only are you raising much needed funding and awareness, you are truly making Kaitlin feel like a princess who is loved by a huge community that you have brought together."
Who are some of your favorite guitarists?
I really admire Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you've had to face while growing your organization?
We realized in order to grow we needed to diversify and get different groups interested in helping out. Trying to diversify so that we can spread awareness to all types of people has been a challenge. We have several events, including Shredfest, our annual music event which attracts a lot of musicians, we have had a lot of success with our Rock The Runevents (5K/10K and 1K kids run) that attract those who are into healthy lifestyles, and we have our Be Bold, Be Bald event (in which participants wear a bald cap for a day to raise awareness for what someone going through chemo has to deal with), and we are an official charity partner with the LA Marathon, attracting those super endurance athletes or those wanting to do a bigger challenge than the 10K. We are looking into other areas and always keep music as a priority woven into each event.
Another challenge for us is trying to spread throughout the nation. We are working to have kids start Shred Kids' Cancer clubs in their schools and hope to have clubs and/or chapters in other areas and regions.
You have already accomplished so much at such a young age. Do you have any advice for other kids who might want to start an organization like yours?
Think big but start small. Enlist a lot of people to help out. If your project is a success then, build on it and never give up on your goals.
- Posted on 03/04/2014 by Rachel1016
It's the beginning of the month, and that means it's time to celebrate those who Help And Lead Others!
Meet Christopher Yao: Our HALO Effect honoree for the month of March and an embodiment of what the HALO Effect is all about. He is driven, compassionate, wise beyond his years, and truly dedicated to the principle of spreading social change!
Christopher gave us some exclusive insight into his remarkable work with Kids Change the World, a non-profit organization that he founded to empower youth to take global issues into their own hands. Read his full bio here, and check out our Q&A below!
Congratulations on your HALO Effect honors! Tell us a little bit about your non-profit organization, Kids Change the World. How did you think of the idea? Has the organization evolved over time?
I was diagnosed with a class III malocclusion [a severe misalignment of teeth] in 6th grade, and I was terrified of the expected gradual worsening of the condition. If I left it untreated, I would not be able to speak or eat properly. During my research about my own physical condition, I came across online images of children with cleft lips and palates. I could relate to how they felt. In developing countries, these children are thought to be "cursed" by God and are often abandoned by their own families. Without corrective surgeries, the prospect of a job, marriage, and a normal life is nil. I knew I had to do something, if even just to help one child.
So, I decided to organize the first annual summer Read-A-Thon in 6th grade. By the summer's end, to my surprise, I had raised $1,000—four times my initial goal! Since then, my efforts have supported over 70 cleft lip and palate surgeries in China, Mexico, India, and other developing countries.
Encouraged by the power of youth, I founded Kids Change the World to empower them to also serve in their communities.
Kids Change the World has grown into one of the world's leading youth-led civic organizations. What is one of the biggest obstacles you've had to face on your journey to success, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest obstacle was having others take me, a 10-year old [at the time], seriously. Countless times I had attempted to solicit donations from community members or groups only to be told to "go back to playing in the sandbox" because of my age. However, I didn't let that stop me.
Over the years, those comments have become the exact encouragement that has fueled my work. I wanted to prove to myself that they were wrong. At the end of the day, I know people are counting on me—my work changes lives, families, and communities; I know my ability to have a positive impact is a gift to be used to its fullest every day.
If someone wanted to get involved with Kids Change the World, what would be his or her first step?
Kids Change the World is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging and enabling young people to volunteer and create positive social change in their communities. Volunteers can visit our website to join our hard-working team, participate in one of our programs, or utilize our grassroots resources to further their charitable initiatives. We are always eager to support young people who are determined and self-motivated to make a positive societal impact.
Your first fundraiser was directed towards funding cleft surgeries for kids around the world. What other causes does your organization support? And how did you choose them?
Our volunteers, patients, and students continually make suggestions and solicit our support towards countless worthy causes.
Among our many programs, the Education Preparation project has distributed hundreds of school supplies, planners, and other educational resources to students around the globe. Its website serves as a hub of learning with custom-made educational videos, sample curricula, worksheets, and links to other resources.
Furthermore, Kids Change the World supports children in clinics, orphanages, and partner hospitals around the world by providing moral support and encouragement through uplifting cards and gifts.
Kids Change the World was founded on the principle of encouraging and enabling others to take action in order to create a domino effect of people helping others. With every person helped, there is one more person to pass another good deed onto someone else.
Kids Change the World is based on the vision that young people are capable of not only making a difference, but of changing the world. What would you say to someone who challenges the belief that kids' voices are meant to be heard?
Young people are our future, as they will create policies and make decisions about public health, education, politics, the environment, and more.
It's also important to remember that there is no minimum requirement of wealth, status, or age to change the world. The fact is, any positive action, no matter how big or small, makes a difference either in the life of another or as an example to follow. I often remind other young people like me to remember: "No dreamer is ever too small; no dream is ever too big."
Do you know any truly inspiring teens who are making an impact like Christopher? Nominate them here!
- Posted on 02/05/2014 by Rachel1016
TeenNick fans, it's time to keep the HALO spirit alive!
Since announcing our year-long initiative to spread the HALO Effect, we've received many nominations recognizing teens who inspire to Help And Lead Others through service. The HALO Effect is all about celebrating young people who do good, and we're so excited to congratulate our February HALO Effect honoree, a true champion of change, DeQuan O'Neal!
DeQuan is a high school senior from Detroit, Michigan, who has devoted himself to several organizations that directly and positively impact his community. He is an advisory board member of the Neighborhood Service Organization's Youth Initiatives Project, a representative of the anti-violence "Hugs Not Bullets" Campaign, and a founding member of the "Grads Not Inmates" Campaign at his own school.
A truly driven and compassionate young man, DeQuan gave us exclusive insight into his work aimed at suppressing violence, promoting education, and empowering at-risk youth. Read his full bio here, and check out our exclusive Q&A below!
Congratulations on your HALO Awards recognition! What inspired you to get involved in the Neighborhood Service Organization's Youth Initiatives Project?
My mother and teacher, Mr. Miller, inspired me to get involved in the Neighborhood Service Organization Youth Initiatives Project. Mr. Miller made a promise to my mother. He promised my mother he was going to give me the guidance to become a man.
Gun violence is an extremely pressing issue in our society, and as a youth advocate you bring a very important point of view. Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the 2012 "Hugs Not Bullets" Campaign.
In 2012, I hosted the 8th Annual "Hugs Not Bullets" Press Conference. I encouraged my community to put the guns down and celebrate the New Year [a night typically fraught with violence] with a hug.
"Grads Not Inmates" is a wonderful campaign you helped launch at your high school to help promote educational opportunities for youth, while staying away from situations that might cause incarceration. What has been your most proud achievement with this initiative?
My most proud achievement with "Grads Not Inmates" was our Empowerment Breakfast. The breakfast was the first time some young men in my community ate and had a positive conversation with [other] grown men. Also, young men had the opportunity [to find] employment. Ninety-five percent of those men who attended gained employment for the summer.
Since you've already been accepted to college, do you plan to continue your efforts while you pursue your degree? Have you thought about a major?
Yes, I will continue my efforts of advocating for my community while I pursue my degree. I will never stop advocating for change. I plan on double majoring in Marketing and Social Science.
You were recently appointed an Advisory Board Member for the Chief of Police Department of Detroit. As the only youth member currently on the Board, what does your involvement entail?
As the only youth member on the Advisory Board for the Chief of Police of Detroit Police Department, my involvement is the same as all the other members. I just bring a youth perspective to the table.
What advice would you give to kids who want to make a change, but worry their voice won't be heard?
Advice I would give to youth who want to make a change: "Youth hold the keys to any revolution".
Through your work and dedication, what long term effects do you hope to see within your community?
I hope to unite people within my community, and I hope to see everyone working together: One cause, one purpose, one movement.
Do you know any truly inspiring teens who are making an impact like DeQuan? Nominate them here!
- Posted on 01/09/2014 by Rachel1016
Get ready to feel the power of the HALO Effect!
In November, we asked you to help us spread the HALO do-gooding spirit by nominating inspiring teens whose service Help And Lead Others. As our promise to keep the HALO Effect going all year long, we're highlighting the amazing work of one of these nominees each month. And with the new year, we congratulate our first outstanding honoree. Meet Brette Machiorlette, the founder of Reading Aces!
We caught up with Brette to learn more about her organization and how she's making literacy an achievable goal for at-risk youth. Not only are her words inspiring, but her story reminds us of the exceptional power of reading, teamwork, and compassion. Read her full bio here, and check out our exclusive Q&A below!
Congratulations on your HALO Effect honors! Tell us about your organization, Reading Aces. How did you come up with the idea? And how did you choose the name for it?
I initially began Reading Aces as an IB [International Baccalaureate Program] high school requirement in Houston. As sophomores, we are required to complete a "Personal Project" which can basically be about anything you want to learn or achieve. For my project, I created Reading Aces. An ace describes a master, or champion. In tennis, an "ace" is a winning serve that is untouched by the opponent. It signifies hard work and success — entities we hoped to instill in our elementary participants.
Early education is fundamental to children's success, and unfortunately, many do not grow up in supportive environments or have access to early literacy tools. Whether young or old, seeing children deprived of the access to learning and reading was deeply unsettling. These collective experiences motivated me to grow and expand Reading Aces.
How do the after-school reading sessions work? Do volunteers work with kids in groups? Or is it more of a one-on-one program?
Every week, our volunteers bring giant bags of children's books to our partner sites. Volunteers are paired with 1-3 children and after agreeing upon a book, the small groups settle down and read orally. Volunteers and participants take turns reading aloud, while groups with younger readers are asked to sound out simple, "sight words."
We encourage our volunteers to frequently ask questions to ensure attentiveness and engagement. Ideally, each site hopes to achieve a one-to-one reader-to-volunteer ratio. The beauty of Reading Aces is in its simplicity. Limited training is needed and the magic of an engaging picture book takes both the volunteers and children to far away places.
What do you find most rewarding about mentoring young students?
There is nothing more rewarding than working with children. Their smiles are infectious and their stories are priceless. Our volunteers foster positive relationships that inspire and motivate these children to always do their best. What most do not realize is the lasting impact these children make on the volunteers.
As a HALO Effect honoree, your organization will receive $5,000. How will you use this reward to benefit your efforts?
Through t-shirt sales and generous donations, we have been able to finance books and snacks; however, the $5,000 donation would dramatically impact our potential expansion channels. Without marketing dollars, it is very hard to solicit new sites and expand our reach. I would also love more money for books, so that we can more frequently give our participants books to enhance their home libraries. In addition, with take-home books to read, we can help prevent the infamous "summer-slide."
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a charitable organization of his or her own?
The key to any successful organization is teamwork. Reading Aces would be nothing without the support of volunteers, sponsors, and friends. Do not be afraid to ask for help. With collaboration, camaraderie, and a common purpose driving a group's efforts, the impossible can be achieved. Take advantage of any opportunity to promote your organization, whether that be through social media, school announcements, or conversations among peers and adults. The more people that know your goal means that more people are likely to support it and help it thrive. An African adage perfectly sums it up: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Do you know any truly inspiring teens who are making an impact like Brette? Nominate them here!
- Posted on 01/09/2014 by Rachel1016
Growing up with a younger brother who struggled with dyslexia, Brette recognized from a young age that literacy is not something to be taken for granted. Knowing just how important literacy is for success, it broke her heart to know that others in her community often lacked the resources and support to make reading a part of their lives.
In 2009, Brette became more involved in addressing her community's need to improve literacy and created Reading Aces, an afterschool reading program for Houston's at-risk elementary school students. Working with her connections across the Houston tennis community, she arranged for her first sessions to take place with the kids attending a free tennis clinic offered by the Tennis Association. Brette and ten of her friends gathered books and read to the clinic participants (approximately ten 10-12 year old students) on a weekly basis. Recognizing the difference she and her team of volunteers could make, she knew she needed to expand this important effort.
What started off as 10 teens reading to a small group of kids at one location is now a program with over 80 teen volunteers that operate across nine locations throughout the city of Houston serving hundreds of underprivileged kids. These kids often joined Reading Aces thinking reading was not for them- they didn't have regular access to books or the support of a parent at home to read to them and encourage them. Now, so many of these young children not only have a new found enthusiasm for reading, but they have greatly improved their literacy and comprehension skills, giving them a greater chance for success both as students and in life.
Since Brette's first year of college, Reading Aces has opened two new Houston sites and has expanded to their first Austin location. The non-profit group Books Between Kids has partnered up with Reading Aces and has donated over 300 books. Due to this generous donation, Reading Aces was able to award these books to its participants at the end of the year. Reading Aces has also secured a strategic corporate sponsor called Cram Crew, an academic test-prep service, allowing access to new volunteers. This sponsorship has positioned Reading Aces to expand nationwide.
Check out our exclusive interview with Brette here!