Empower kids and teens during COVID-19

girl looking out window at virus
girl looking out window at virus
Image by enriquelopez­garre from Pix­abay

Why empower kids and teens during COVID-19? They need it!

Tak­ing action is one impor­tant way to make a prob­lem seem more man­age­able and less fright­en­ing, so get­ting young peo­ple involved can actu­al­ly help them cope with the sit­u­a­tion we are all fac­ing. Giv­ing them a pur­pose gives them some­thing else to focus on besides what they’ve lost or what they’re wor­ried about. And remind­ing them that we are all in this togeth­er (even while six feet apart!), can help them feel less iso­lat­ed and anx­ious dur­ing this chal­leng­ing time.

We need them.

Dur­ing a cri­sis, we need all hands on deck to get through it as well as we pos­si­bly can. And young peo­ple have a lot to offer, even in the case of the cur­rent COVID-19 cri­sis. But try­ing to come up with ways for a young per­son in your life to BE A CHANGEMAKER while com­ply­ing with social dis­tanc­ing guide­lines and keep­ing every­one safe dur­ing this COVID-19 cri­sis may feel like an impos­si­ble task. It’s true that life looks very dif­fer­ent now for most peo­ple, but there are still many use­ful ways for kids and teens to give back.

So, how can we empower kids and teens during COVID-19 in a safe and responsible manner? Here are a few ideas and resources for them to choose from:

    • Do you play a musi­cal instru­ment? Per­haps you can per­form a “dri­ve-by” con­cert to cheer up neigh­bors or sched­ule one for your apart­ment build­ing. I’ve even heard of one group let­ting peo­ple “hire” them for this pur­pose, and then donat­ing the mon­ey raised to orga­ni­za­tions in need dur­ing the cri­sis — win, win!
    • Do you have some durable mark­ers or paint? How about dec­o­rat­ing some rocks with pos­i­tive mes­sages to leave along the side­walk, in build­ing entrances, or on trails in your area? I’ve also seen a lot of fan­tas­tic chalk art on streets, side­walks, even the fronts of hous­es or build­ings (be sure get per­mis­sion before dec­o­rat­ing some­one else’s pri­vate prop­er­ty!). Art, espe­cial­ly that with mes­sages of hope and con­nect­ed­ness, can go a long way toward lift­ing peo­ple’s spir­its these days.
    • Write let­ters or draw pic­tures for senior cit­i­zens or any­one else who may be iso­lat­ed now. Reach out to your local senior cen­ters and ask if you can send pho­tos of the let­ters and pic­tures for them to share with their residents.
    • Clean your room! Seri­ous­ly. Now is a great time to tack­le that over­due chore. Some items to con­sid­er purg­ing include gen­tly used cloth­ing you no longer wear, sports equip­ment you’ve out­grown, toys, books, etc. You may not be able to donate them right now, but it’ll be nice to have them out of your way now, and orga­ni­za­tions will appre­ci­ate them when things open back up again.
    • Check in on friends and fam­i­ly. Use the phone or oth­er avail­able tech­nol­o­gy just to see how they’re doing. Talk about how you’re doing. No mat­ter how old or young you are, this is one that ben­e­fits every­one. It may seem triv­ial, but it may be just what the per­son on the oth­er end needs.
    • Be kind to your teach­ers. Whether your cur­rent teach­ers are your usu­al teach­ers, your par­ents, your grand­par­ents, or an old­er sib­ling, all of this is new to them (yes, even if you are home­schooled!) and they are doing their best to help you be suc­cess­ful while also doing all of the oth­er things they need to do right now, many of which are also new to them. Offer a word of encour­age­ment, a thank you note, or a gen­uine smile when­ev­er you can.
    • Youth Ser­vice Amer­i­ca has a bunch of oth­er great ideas here, includ­ing hold­ing a vir­tu­al dance-a-thon, orga­niz­ing a ted­dy bear hunt, rais­ing aware­ness for an issue you care about, and more!
    • For teens, look into mutu­al aid orga­ni­za­tions in your area and see if you can con­tribute. Not famil­iar with mutu­al aid? The basic idea is that every­one has some­thing to give and that we are all depen­dent on one anoth­er. You can read more about the idea here, but, in short, they are net­works cre­at­ed by indi­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers among spe­cif­ic groups of oppressed peo­ple or dur­ing local emer­gen­cies like nat­ur­al dis­as­ters. With the cur­rent pub­lic health cri­sis, how­ev­er, they’ve been sprout­ing every­where. Paired with the pow­er of today’s read­i­ly acces­si­ble tech­nol­o­gy, they are an even more pow­er­ful force. There’s a mas­sive list of exist­ing mutu­al aid orga­ni­za­tions here. If you can’t find one that fits, start your own with this Mutu­al Aid 101 Toolk­it, and be the hero of your community!

What­ev­er you do, be sure to check fed­er­al, state, and local guide­lines to make sure you are com­ply­ing with the most recent advice. And… stay safe, stay home!

How #ChangemakerEd is improving #BacktoSchool

Be a Changemaker cover

I came across an inter­est­ing arti­cle on Medi­um the oth­er day. It talks about “reimag­in­ing edu­ca­tion in this his­toric time of change” and the impor­tance of #Change­mak­erEd, the glob­al move­ment to empow­er young peo­ple to cre­ate a bet­ter world by mas­ter­ing empa­thy and iden­ti­fy­ing as changemakers.
#ChangemakerEd book "Be a Changemaker" coverThis move­ment isn’t new, but it is grow­ing. And as the author of BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, I could­n’t be hap­pi­er. Through my work with stu­dents and teach­ers based on my book, I have seen it first­hand time and time again. Once stu­dents real­ize they CAN be change­mak­ers, their whole out­look on life changes. Sud­den­ly they see prospects and oppor­tu­ni­ties they could­n’t have even imag­ined before. And it goes far beyond the indi­vid­ual stu­dents them­selves, of course. As it says in the article:

The key fac­tor for suc­cess for every com­mu­ni­ty — be it a com­pa­ny, a city or a coun­try — is the pro­por­tion of its pop­u­la­tion who are change­mak­ers. A col­lec­tive abil­i­ty to address com­plex social prob­lems — and to antic­i­pate future ones — is para­mount to pos­i­tive­ly shap­ing our world.”

#Change­mak­erEd schools and edu­ca­tors are lead­ing the charge to pre­pare today’s young peo­ple for exact­ly that kind of suc­cess by help­ing them gain the knowl­edge, prac­tice the skills, and feel the sense of pur­pose that is nec­es­sary for them to thrive as glob­al cit­i­zens and have a pos­i­tive impact on their com­mu­ni­ties. Along with the core sub­jects, more and more teach­ers are also teach­ing their stu­dents to have empa­thy, be thought­ful, be cre­ative, take action, lead the way, and col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers, while allow­ing them to apply their edu­ca­tion to real-world prob­lems right now.
Inter­est­ed? Read the full arti­cle here to find out more about this impor­tant move­ment, and watch this inspir­ing video about one #Change­mak­erEd high school in Arizona:

And, of course, check out BE A CHANGEMAKER for inspi­ra­tion, real-life exam­ples, and tons of prac­ti­cal how-to advice that teens can start putting to use imme­di­ate­ly, whether they have access to #Change­mak­erED in their own school or not!

7th Graders Changing the World

I recent­ly came across this arti­cle about some 7th graders from Owas­so, Okla­homa. It says, in part:

Sev­er­al read­ing stu­dents at the Owas­so Sev­enth Grade Cen­ter recent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the school’s first “Be a Change­mak­er” program.
The pro­gram – based off Lau­rie Ann Thompson’s book, “Be a Change­mak­er: How to Start Some­thing That Mat­ters” – enabled stu­dents to affect change in their class­rooms and the com­mu­ni­ty through dif­fer­ent pas­sion projects.
Eighty six stu­dents across five class­es com­bined what they like, what they’re good at, and a prob­lem they felt pas­sion­ate about to cre­ate a cam­paign that would make a last­ing impact in that area.
Lan­guage Arts teacher Amber McMath, who led the two-week pro­gram, used the premise of “Be a Change­mak­er” as the foun­da­tion for the course, designed to help stu­dents in read­ing reme­di­a­tion improve their skills.
“They’re only assign­ment was to come up with a ven­ture that would change the world,” she said. “The book inspired us to do that because it had sev­er­al projects in it, and it also was kind of a guide that walked you through how to do it.”

The kids addressed bul­ly­ing at their school, start­ed a video game club, col­lect­ed food for a home­less shel­ter, and raised aware­ness of issues includ­ing human traf­fick­ing and food waste. They engaged in pub­lic speak­ing events and social media cam­paigns, wrote meet­ing agen­das and press releas­es, con­tact­ed busi­ness­es to ask for help, and researched grants and oth­er crowd-sourc­ing out­lets to raise funds.
Way to go, Owas­so 7th graders (and their awe­some lan­guage arts teacher, Ms. McMath)!
Read the full arti­cle and see a pho­to here.

Meet young social entrepreneur Riley Carney!

Riley Carney

I first met Riley Car­ney on Twit­ter. As you can see in her pro­file, she’s 18, has pub­lished 3 books (so far), and found­ed a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion for children’s lit­er­a­cy. Pret­ty amaz­ing, huh? I knew right away she was some­body I want­ed to fol­low! Loads of oth­er peo­ple do, too, so today we’re get­ting togeth­er to throw a SURPRISE Twit­ter grad­u­a­tion par­ty for her! Every­body say,

“Hap­py Grad­u­a­tion, Riley!”

Riley Carney
In just four years, Riley’s non­prof­it has raised over $100,000 and built three schools and water purifi­ca­tion sys­tems for vil­lages in Africa along with a children’s lit­er­a­cy cen­ter in a woman’s shel­ter in Col­orado. Cur­rent­ly, they are focus­ing on their Bookin’It pro­gram, which is putting books into class­rooms in low-lit­er­a­cy/un­der­fund­ed schools in the Unit­ed States. Riley donates some of the pro­ceeds from her own books to the orga­ni­za­tion, also.
A true hero, Riley has won a num­ber of  nation­al and local awards, includ­ing T.A. Bar­ron’s Young Heroes Award Dis­tin­guished Final­ist, Pru­den­tial Spir­it of Com­mu­ni­ty Nation­al Award for Col­orado, NBC Col­orado Affil­i­ate 9News Kids Who Care, and Skip­ping Stones Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Mag­a­zine Top Youth Writer Award, to name a few.
Despite being a pub­lished author, founder and CEO of Break­ing the Chain, in-demand speak­er, not to men­tion busy high-school senior, Riley was kind enough to answer some inter­view ques­tions to tell us a lit­tle more about her­self and her lit­er­a­cy orga­ni­za­tion, which fights right in with the youth empow­er­ment theme of this blog!
Lau­rie: Hi Riley! Thanks so much for play­ing along and shar­ing your wis­dom and vision with us. First, how old were you when you launched your non­prof­it? And how did you decide what prob­lem or issue to address?
Riley: When I was four­teen years old, I learned some star­tling sta­tis­tics about children’s lit­er­a­cy: over 120 mil­lion chil­dren around the world are denied access to a basic edu­ca­tion; 1.3 mil­lion chil­dren drop out of school each year in the U.S.; and 1 in every 2 chil­dren lives in pover­ty. I real­ized that there was a direct cor­re­la­tion between illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty. I want­ed to do some­thing to change those sta­tis­tics, so I decid­ed to start my own non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion, Break­ing the Chain, to break the chains of illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty through education.
Lau­rie: Who or what helped you fig­ure out how to do it?
Riley: When I first start­ed Break­ing the Chain, my ini­tial goal was to build a school in Kenya. I part­nered with an orga­ni­za­tion called Free the Chil­dren so that I could raise the mon­ey and they would build the school. They had many help­ful fundrais­ing tips that gave me ideas of how to raise mon­ey. My fam­i­ly and friends were very sup­port­ive from the very begin­ning, and I used my school as a way to raise aware­ness and funds.
Lau­rie: What was the eas­i­est aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: The eas­i­est aspect was stay­ing pas­sion­ate about the cause. I deliv­er books to many class­rooms in high-need mid­dle and ele­men­tary schools and I often have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with the stu­dents who receive the books. It is impos­si­ble to ade­quate­ly con­vey the joy and excite­ment expressed by the chil­dren when they see the books. As soon as their teacher allows them to, they run to the box­es and grab as many books as they can to take back to their desks. They smile, they laugh, they dance around. It’s bet­ter than a birth­day par­ty. Often, they’ll ask if they can take a book home to keep. Many have nev­er owned a book of their own. The need and the impact are so tan­gi­ble, and the expe­ri­ence only dri­ves me to do as much as I can to help.
Lau­rie: What was the most chal­leng­ing aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: Fundrais­ing can be dif­fi­cult and frus­trat­ing, espe­cial­ly dur­ing a reces­sion. It’s dif­fi­cult to secure a con­stant source of funds and it’s often chal­leng­ing to find new ways of fundrais­ing after oth­er meth­ods fall short.
Lau­rie: What keeps you going when things get tough?
Riley: I just remind myself of the chil­dren who we are help­ing and the impact that our efforts have on their lives. There is noth­ing more valu­able that teach­ing a child how to read and the gift of edu­ca­tion is a right that should be afford­ed to every­one. The abil­i­ty to read pro­found­ly affects every minute of our lives; lit­er­a­cy is the sin­gle-most impor­tant com­po­nent of becom­ing a func­tion­ing adult. That knowl­edge pro­pels me forward.
Lau­rie: What do you feel like you, per­son­al­ly, have gained from being involved with it? What have you learned that you’ll take with you to your next phase of your life?
Riley: Cre­at­ing Break­ing the Chain, main­tain­ing our pro­grams, and inter­act­ing with the kids has been an amaz­ing and for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence. I have learned so much about myself and I have been awed by the incred­i­ble opti­mism and enthu­si­asm of chil­dren in even the most dif­fi­cult of sit­u­a­tions. I am so grate­ful that I have had this expe­ri­ence and had the hon­or of meet­ing so many fan­tas­tic kids.
Lau­rie: What would you say to oth­er teens con­sid­er­ing launch­ing their own non­prof­it? What do you wish some­one had said to you when you were just start­ing out?
Riley: You’re nev­er too young to make a dif­fer­ence. When I first start­ed my non­prof­it, I was ter­ri­fied that I would fail, that I would embar­rass myself in front of my peers, but I real­ized that the only way I could make a dif­fer­ence in my own life or in some­one else’s life is if I faced that fear of failure.
Lau­rie: Thank you, Riley! I think your answers remind us all, youth and adults alike, to face that fear of fail­ure and make a dif­fer­ence in what­ev­er areas we feel pas­sion­ate about. I know we’ll be hear­ing much more from you in the years to come, and I’m so look­ing for­ward to it. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your grad­u­a­tion, Riley, and best wish­es for a stel­lar future!

If you’d like to sup­port Break­ing the Chain (a 501(c)(3) orga­ni­za­tion), you can sends funds via Pay­Pal to
or mail dona­tions to:

Break­ing the Chain
P.O. Box 100644
Den­ver, CO  80250–0644

I did!