Social Entrepreneurs Come in All Ages: Q&A with The Paper Project

As we continue the countdown to the official launch of our consulting projects for our newest cohort of grantees, we invite you to get to know our grantees better (both old and new)! Next up a Q&A featuring Claire Parker of The Paper Project, one of our newest grantees.

Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Student participates in The Paper Project

Cesar Chavez Public Charter School student participates in The Paper Project

Describe your professional background and current job.

I am a high school student at Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown.

Tell us about your program that received support from DCSIP: what does your program do and what are its goals?

The Paper Project is a program I started in my sophomore year. We launch student newspapers and mentor students through journalism at DC public middle schools. We aim to help students find their voices, become more engaged in their communities, and learn to harness the power of words.

What accomplishments has your program made so far?

In the spring of 2013, we started a student newspaper, The Eagle, at Cesar Chavez Prep Public Charter School in Columbia Heights. We’ve worked with over 35 students to publish eight issues of The Eagle over the past two years. We’ve seen our students become better writers and photographers in the process. We’ve developed community partnerships with neighborhood businesses like Pete’s Pizza, and received grants and recognition from organizations like DoSomething.org, Youth Service America, The Student Voice Project, and now, DC Social Innovation Project.

Any specific success story of a participant in your program that you’d like to share?

When we began working with our student Shayna in the spring of 2013, she was a shy seventh grader who was nervous about expressing her opinions and projecting her voice on to paper. Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen her grow into a mature, confident, opinionated ninth grader who is always eager to take on new projects and share her wisdom about life and middle school through her writing. She has become a leader among her peers, and she will serve as our Senior Editor for The Eagle this year.

So many people see a problem in their community but don’t do anything about it; what motivated you to actually do something?

I’ve been interested in journalism since I was in elementary school. I joined the student newspaper at Wilson my freshman year, and it was such a great experience for me. It gave me a community, a way to get my writing out into the world and improve every month, and a way to spur change in and engage with many aspects of my school. So when I heard at the beginning of my sophomore year that very few DC public schools have student newspapers, I was shocked and disappointed. I began thinking about ways I could change that. From there, starting The Paper Project was sort of a natural thing; student journalism was something I cared about and was interested in, I knew the DC public school system pretty well, and I’d seen other teenagers take action and start successful community initiatives, so why not start this?

What did winning the early support from DCSIP mean to you personally?

Winning the early support from DCSIP validated what I had done with The Paper Project so far, and encouraged me to continue my efforts to make the program sustainable and eventually expand it to other schools. It meant so much to me that DCSIP took me and The Paper Project seriously, and was willing to believe in and support a project run by high school students.

What impact did DCSIP and the support you received have on your program? Did it help attract more resources or help your program grow in some way?

Our relationship with DCSIP just started, but already DCSIP has begun to help me plan for the future of The Paper Project. I’m confident that with DCSIP’s support and guidance, The Paper Project can become a sustainable program implemented at more than one DC middle school.

Read more about The Paper Project here and visit them on their website.

I’m a Social Architect: A Q&A with Wise Young Buiders

This week, we officially kickoff the consulting projects for our newest cohort of grantees. As we prepare, we invite you to get to know our grantees better (both old and new)! We start with a Q&A featuring Elijah Moses of Wise Young Builders, one of our newest grantees.

Wise Young Builder student at work

Wise Young Builder student at work

Describe your professional background and current job.

I have a colorful employment background. I started out working in marketing and promotions with a few start-ups in early 2000. Subsequently, I left to work in construction for about 5 years. Around 2005 I took an opportunity at the University of Buffalo and worked with youth helping them complete high school and enter college. Since leaving Buffalo in 2008 for DC, I have mostly worked in the trifecta of workforce development, education and construction all combined. 

Tell us about your program that received support from DCSIP: what does your program do and what are its goals?

Wise Young Builders (WYB) is a unique enrichment program for youth ages 8-12. WYB uses carpentry to strengthen participant’s math skills. The program serves as a constant reminder to youth that they should be working to obtain knowledge and skills and visualizing their worth in life.

What accomplishments has your program made so far?

Wow. We’ve made a lot! We’ve been able to run our program for five years with no major funding, taught students to build carpentry projects from scratch, won several small grants, and negotiated development agreements for four spaces (Ward 8, Ward 5 and soon a summer camp space with a local college).

Any specific success story of a participant in your program that you’d like to share?

There are so many. We have one particular student, Zahir, who was so excited that he had built his first bookshelf. He placed it in the living room to show his father, darted upstairs to grab all of his books, and rushed downstairs to place them on the shelf. He was so happy. He’s also twelve years of age and taking algebra. We can’t totally take all the credit for that one though!

So many people see a problem in their community but don’t do anything about it; what motivated you to actually do something?

I love building and label myself a Social Architect. After teaching so many adults who have so many complications, a Frederick Douglass quote really helped enliven my vision: “It is easier to build strong boys, than to repair broken men.” Also, my mother convinced me that I could do anything as a child. I’ve never been an inert individual.

What did winning the early support from DCSIP mean to you personally?

It meant a lot. It meant that others were really taking us seriously and that we were well prepared for the opportunity. I remember the presentation day. I brought my son, who has been a part of the program for years. I think it meant a lot to me that he was able to see the efforts of hard work pay off.

What impact did DCSIP and the support you received have on your program? Did it help attract more resources or help your program grow in some way?

Since we’ve just gotten started, it remains to tell. I know that it is really going to help bolster our resources. Sometimes people support those who they know others support. We’ve been getting a lot of hits off of twitter.  

Read more about Wise Young Builders’ program here and visit them on their website.

A Love Letter

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and we love our Innovation Family here at DC Social Innovation Project. We can’t imagine more amazing people on the planet than these wonderful folks who are helping to empower DC communities to see themselves and their future through a new lens of hope and agency. For this holiday weekend, some people like chocolate, but we prefer creativity.

Grantee, Press Pass Mentors visits the White House

Grantee, Press Pass Mentors visits the White House

In big doses! And we really love when hope, creativity, AND the White House happen in one place.

We want to say thank you for supporting us, believing in the power of our grantees and share with you a “love letter” that just has us swooning from our former grantee, Press Pass Mentors. Since we first met them, they have come a long way right up to the White House.

Read on and share the love by sending this note to someone you want to bowl over this Valentine’s Day.

Dear Darius,

Great to see the continued success you are having at DCSIP. Eli and I will forever be grateful to you and the team at DCSIP for your early support for Press Pass Mentors and I wanted to send you a brief update on our progress.

Last month, we welcomed our fourth class of high school students, our largest group yet. We also added two program directors, former mentors Rick Maese and Robert Samuels, who are volunteering to help us reach more students than ever before. We now have 18 high school students currently enrolled in Press Pass, most of who are working to become the first in their families to attend college. And 13 alumni on college campuses around the country.

In addition to getting bigger, our program is also getting better. Our last student event was a private tour of the White House led by the president’s speechwriters. Our mentors are more prepared than ever. One hundred percent of our graduates have been accepted to college. We are working to launch partnerships with universities.

Building this program has been difficult, rewarding work. Eli and I had no experience in non-profits when we started four years ago. We didn’t know quite how this would fit in our lives or where it would go. You have helped ensure the program’s success. Each year at this time, you make Press Pass feel like a community venture. In every way, we are fueled by your support.

Thanks,

Louis and Eli

Press Pass Mentors graduates its second class

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Last week we joined our grantee Press Pass Mentors (PPM) for its annual scholarship celebration. PPM is an 18-month writing intensive and one-on-one mentoring program for high school juniors and seniors from Wards 7 and 8 who want to attend college but need a boost in their writing skills. Each student that completes the program receives a scholarship to attend college. (Read more about them in our previous blog profile.)

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The scholarship celebration took place in the auditorium at The Washington Post. Each of the seven graduates – who are now heading to college or the military – were introduced by their mentor and then gave a speech about their growth during the program.

The speeches were hilarious, thoughtful, and touching as they recounted their experience in the program and the impact it had on them personally and on their writing ability. One student remarked, “I finally found my voice and I plan to use it to the fullest extent.”

 

 

Congratulate PPM and its graduates by sharing this tweet:

Congrats to @dcsocialinnov’s grantee @presspassmentor for graduating its second class and providing scholarships to college! http://wp.me/p1tFvv-db

For opportunities to support our work and grantees like Press Pass Mentors, visit the Get Involved page on our website.

Food For Life celebrates graduation

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Food For Life founder and chef Marisa, flanked by the four new graduates.

Last week we joined our grantee Food For Life for the graduation of its recent cohort. As we shared in a previous profile of the organization, Food For Life provides unemployed youth (generally ages 18-23) with culinary training as both a career-building and life development tool. The organization also sells gourmet meals prepared by the students in order to generate revenue to support the training program.

Last week’s graduation featured a delicious meal prepared by the students and many fun stories about their time in the Food For Life kitchen. The recent cohort (pictured above) includes four young women who are now set to begin interviewing for jobs in the culinary industry and are looking forward to the start of their promising new careers.

 

#MLKProBono

ImageDC Social Innovation Project partnered with Taproot Foundation DC and IMPACT to host MLK Pro Bono Dream Lab in honor of the annual MLK Day of Service. We brought together 30 volunteers with 18 local organizations for a day of impact through pro bono service. During the five-hour event, volunteers worked with representatives from organizations on projects ranging from designing a new brochure to providing strategic advice on recruiting and engaging board members.

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All of this great work resulted in about $12,000 in free assistance for organizations making a difference in the lives of DC residents. One participant remarked, “The volunteers were so helpful, we did in a day what would have taken us about a year to figure out on our own.” To get a first-hand look at the event, check out some of our favorite tweets and pictures from the day.

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Our grantee Press Pass Mentors reaches milestones

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This fall, our grantee Press Pass Mentors reaches two remarkable milestones: sending 100% of their inaugural class to college and recruiting their third (and largest) class of students. DC Social Innovation Project’s team first came to know Press Pass Mentors in 2011 when they applied to our grant program. We knew then that they were onto something special and we’re delighted but not surprised by their success to-date.

Press Pass Mentors (PPM) is an 18-month writing intensive and one-on-one mentoring program for high school juniors and seniors from Wards 7 and 8 who want to attend college but need a boost in their writing skills. PPM pairs each student in a one-on-one mentor relationship with a journalist from The Washington Post and offers students behind-the-scenes field trips at places only accessible with a press pass including the White House, Kennedy Center, and an NBA locker room. The mentors guide students through a curriculum that prepares them for the major writing assignments on the road to college: the SAT and PSAT, college applications, and college scholarship essays. PPM also awards each student that completes the program with a financial scholarship to cover some college costs.

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Co-founder Louis Goldstein describes their approach and the challenges the program seeks to overcome:

“The 11th graders enter our program, on average, writing at an 8th grade level, which places them at a major disadvantage in a college process that depends heavily on writing. We pair each student in a one-on-one relationship with a professional journalist from The Washington Post. Through our mentors and our program-specific curriculum, we help students become great writers and equip them with the communication skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond.”

Launched in 2011 by Louis Goldstein (a corporate strategist) and Eli Saslow (a journalist), PPM is currently recruiting its third class of students, with each new class including more students than the past. The group’s inaugural class of students graduated from the program in June and all of the students are attending college this fall. As the first institutional funder to support Press Pass Mentors, DC Social Innovation Project’s team couldn’t be happier about the early success of this program and we look forward to continuing our mission of providing funding and pro bono services to promising new programs like PPM that are working to improve lives in Washington, DC.