A couple of weeks ago I had the time to sit down and give my full attention to the moving documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, about the remarkable life of Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers). His contribution to child development defined whole bodies of work and remains as timeless as it is true. Mr. Rogers possessed a keen understanding of what it means to be human, and why every human yearns to feel like they matter and have a value. More important than that, he knew mattering and being valued should be something everyone gets to feel, no matter your age.
Fred Rogers talked to each and every child he met like they mattered, had something to say and deserved respect. It’s crazy to think about how novel this concept can still seem sometimes. We expect young people to earn grades to get into the “best” school or follow a path to success. But the path to a promising and successful future feels more complicated and cluttered than ever, with competition proving to be a steady reminder that there’s always someone more eager and qualified coming after the same brass ring.
One of the many reasons I helped create GENYOUth’s AdVenture Capital (AdCap), is because we believe that all young people have something to say, and what they say has value. In 2013, we took five students to Omaha to meet Warren Buffett and attend the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting at his invitation. Still a fledgling program, we were figuring out how to balance support with autonomy so we could encourage young people to participate and then get out of their way to come up with ideas and work through problems. Spending time with the magnanimous Warren Buffett will change anyone’s life. But, we realized that opportunity was the ultimate catalyst for change, not meeting one of the world’s most famous billionaires (though that was pretty amazing). Students always rise to the occasion and they always appreciate that people/companies want to hear what they think and believe that they have everything it takes to be accountable for taking the action necessary to make an idea a reality… That’s where the magic happens. Like one our first AdCap winners, Kaylene, who re-focused her plan for creating a student-run sports league when her initial idea proved to be next to impossible to execute. Instead, she hosted school community events with sports and other physical activities for her peers. She made it work and as a result, hundreds of students benefited from her efforts.
In just over a week, we will launch our first ever national, AdCap Challenge. Four corporate partners SAP, Domino’s, Land O’Lakes, and Corteva Agriscience each presenting questions to students and asking for their help to solve them. If I’ve learned anything in the over five years since we created and run the program, it’s that asking, listening and providing opportunity for students to participate and take-action has the great potential to change everything.
We’re all born with different talents, abilities and capabilities, and if we’re lucky, we learn just how much we can do, be and become. Sometimes we find those things inside ourselves and sometimes others see it in us and help coax it out. I’m so proud to be a part of this program and excited for how far we’ve come because we value young people and we’ve given them the opportunity to make a difference.
By Courtney Dubin