Four years ago, NC State Park Scholars Adam Dunn and Steve Mazur drew up a plan during lunch to help high school students from North Carolina unleash the energy and enthusiasm of youth in their local communities.
Now they’re hoping the community returns the favor by helping them win the Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change Award. Their organization, Triangle Youth Leadership Services, is one of 20 finalists in the nationwide contest.
You can vote for TYLS at this Facebook page. One vote per day is allowed, and voting ends June 24.
Five winners will be selected to receive $2,500 grants and a slew of Microsoft products that will help further their cause, including a Microsoft Surface Tablet, the Windows 8 operating system and Microsoft Office Suite, a Windows phone and an Xbox. One person from each group will be named a Microsoft Ambassador, earning a three-week trip to Kenya to learn more about community engagement.
In its short history, TYLS has hosted four two-day conferences on NC State’s campus to teach younger students how to make a broader impact at home, challenging them with the message of “Why Wait?”
Approximately 250 students from around the state have attended these spring and fall events, which are organized by NC State volunteers and taught by student leaders in an “adult-free” setting. Speakers have included Greg Mulholland, the founder of the Krispy Kreme Challenge; former student body president Kelly Hooks; Barton Strawn, founder and creative director of Raleigh-base clothier Lumina and Jessica Eckstrom, founder of Headbands for Hope, which supplies headbands for pediatric cancer patients.
“We started with business leaders and state representatives, but we found that having student leaders and others who have started similar projects here on campus related better to high school students,” Dunn said. “It allowed us to have a more casual and energetic feel.”
Students who have attended these events have gone back to help the homeless in their communities, develop youth councils for high school students and design unique barrels for composting hog waste. One high school student, Devan Riley of Beulaville, N.C., was so inspired by his experience that he applied to NC State, was accepted and is now the chief event coordinator for TYLS.
“We feel like there aren’t a lot of organizations that really push high school students, outside of athletics, to do a lot of extra-curricular activities that really benefit the community,” Dunn said. “So our goal is to give them the skills to go home and make a difference.”
The group has already won national recognition through the Dell Social Innovation Competition and the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.