Today was the first-ever Project Empower Student Non-Profit Regional Competition! Twelve teams of middle school students from across the New York City area presented their own non-profit initiatives at today's finals for the chance to win a one year partnership with Project Empower. The event was held in Manhattan and I had the honor of hosting.
Over 1,200 students participated in our local competitions this fall. Middle schools throughout NYC tasked students with identifying a need in their community, authoring an essay on what they see as a strong solution, and then implementing their plan within the community over the course of four weeks. We had university students serve as coaches for the teams and young professionals from multiple industries helped judge the final results at each school. The 64 students joining us today were the top projects from each school.
Project Empower is the non-profit that I and a group of young friends launched this fall. It aims to develop students for life beyond the classroom, increasing their awareness of opportunities and develop professional and personal skills through hands-on learning. It is what I wrote my Quality of Life application about for Miss America, earning me a spot as one of the eight finalists. This is a program built by and for young leaders that launched just four months ago. It took our blood, sweat, tears, vacation days, hours of lost sleep and more to make this happen...but we believe that students deserve more than to be taught how to pass tests.
We assembled a panel of global leaders to help judge today's competition. Our judges included our own Ashley Zambito (Project Empower, Executive Director of OUTREACH), Tobias Levkovich (Citigroup, Chief Equity Strategist), John Brown (UBS, Group Managing Director), John Collura (UBS, Chief Operating Officer), Anthony Filosa (Rosenberg Fotuna & Laitman LLP, Corporate Attorney) Keith Miller (Citigroup, Global Head of Quantitative Research), Jenny Delany (UBS, Senior Emerging Market Strategist), and Alan Fields (After School All Stars New York, Executive Director).
UBS Wealth Management kindly donated their Executive Board Room for today's event. We made sure to treat the students like stars and provide them the same experience that a corporate sales executive would receive when visiting for a presentation. Many of the schools did the same, providing students with fresh uniforms or even suits to help them feel their best for the big event. Our coaches taught them about presentation skills, using media and working as a team to present their work.
Here's a little bit about the teams we met today:
Nickles for a Cause raised money by collecting and recycling used cans and used that money to purchase toys and supplies for local children's shelters and day cares. The Peace Makersdeveloped a campaign to end animal cruelty in their neighborhood. They hand drew posters of adoptable pets in local shelters and distributed them to community members. Pick It Up was an environmental awareness project that engaged local students in community clean-up efforts after school. Peacemakers fought bullying by creating a school-wide pledge, holding a poster competition and organized visits from notable public speakers to their school to discuss forgiveness and peace. Santa's Helpers collected hundreds of toys and hand delivered them to children in local hospitals, organizing collections and visits by themselves. Community Outreach Program was an project to create after school activities that keep students from getting involved in gangs. Their programs ranged from sports teams to dance classes. Life Savers raised awareness and funds for Susan G Komen to help fight breast cancer by selling hand-made pink ribbon chocolate candies to their peers. Women's Prison Associationcollected toys for children with incarcerated mothers. Helping Heroes collected supplies to send to soldiers overseas, packaging them in shoe boxes and raising funds to ship them directly to the camp where a local community member was serving.
We heard fundraising ideas that ranged from community recycling for change to selling dress-down days at their school. Each team utilized their peers, teachers, parents, community members...they each became part of their community's social fabric.
The winning team was an 8th grade group, Helping Heroes! They have won a one year partnership with Project Empower where they will receive a specialized team to support them in growing and developing, as well as use of all our resources as an organization. Helping Heroes students collected toiletry supplies and built care packages out of shoe boxes. They shipped over 40 packages to a military unit overseas where a local soldier was currently stationed. Helping Heroes demonstrated excellence in resourcefulness, creativity, fundraising, scale, presentation and passion. They documented their work and the video left the room in tears.
Now don't get me wrong...we are not taking over for them; they will be our boss and we will provide every inch of support, knowledge and advice we have as they navigate their project to its maximum impact over the course of a year. If they want a professional branding team, we will get them a meeting with ours. If they want a press release, we'll get our PR rep on it. If they want to ask a global bank for funding, we'll get the meeting. While the outward goal is to create a self-sufficient model that can be passed on to their community and remain for years to come, our internal goal is to teach these students confidence and expose them to professional opportunities that will push them to grow. By the end of this year these students will feel as comfortable in a corporate board room as they do in their own living room. We will provide them with nothing but our utmost respect and support. They are our peers.
So, congratulations to every single student from today's competition! I am in awe of your creativity, fearlessness and energy. Your communities have benefitted, and will continue to do so as you keep growing your initiatives. I hope you now see the ease with which you can impact your neighborhood. You are helping us prove just how powerful young people can be. Age is not the factor that determines someones ability to impact the world around them. Power comes from passion. We aim to help students discover and ignite their passion.
These students have joined our ranks. We are young leaders passionate about our world. We are Project Empower.