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!