Youth Venture Talent Showcase celebrates student-led change

| Dave Johnson


Amid the booming hip-hop beats, the Instagram photo sessions and the towers of pizza boxes, there was a girl wearing a dress made out of garbage.

On May 30, in the halls of Microsoft New England, the 2014 Youth Venture Talent Showcase had invaded, a boisterous celebration of creativity and community.  The Youth Venture program is a partnership between United Way and Ashoka’s Youth Venture to support young people year-round in implementing their own ideas for social change.

“The Youth Venture program is an incredible opportunity for young people to channel their creativity and desire to better their communities,” said Michael Durkin, President of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “It is always inspiring to see the passion and innovative projects that they produce every year.”

Youth Venture teams from Boston to Lynn to Lowell and all points in between pitched their project ideas to community volunteers, looking for seed funding to get their visions off the ground.  Youth received support from volunteer mentors throughout the months, tips on managing budgets, employing marketing techniques and related business concepts to ensure their projects were a success. The Talent Showcase was the culmination, an opportunity for the students and their adult allies to come together to share and celebrate their efforts through live presentations and video diaries.

One such group was from the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC). Motivated by their distaste for the amount of litter and garbage they saw in their neighborhoods, a group of youth from EBECC, dubbed EcoHispanic United, started collecting. Bins of grocery bags, soda cans and plastic accumulated, and this charge to beautify their city ultimately turned into an awareness builder and a revenue-generator. When the mother of one of the group members showed off her unique skill of transforming this refuse into wearable items, the group’s imagination took off.

And that was their project: after school, twice a week for three weeks, the mom taught the kids of EcoHispanic United how to weave, knit and fabricate purses, handbags, bracelets and, yes, dresses, out of the trash they had picked up. Each student generated one piece a month and each month EBECC held an art show for friends, family and neighbors to sell their wares. Proceeds from sales went to the purchase of recycle bins that could be placed around East Boston, which meant less clutter on the streets, more sewing materials for EcoHispanic United and the cycle continues until the neighborhoods were pristine.

Theirs was but one story of a Youth Venture group leveraging their passions and talents into a net benefit for their community—the Roxbury teens who planted a community garden to encourage young people to “go green, not gangs”; the dance team that choreographed a routine speaking out against bullying; and the Lynn environmental clean-up squad that won a trip to India thanks to the ingenuity of their efforts.

The projects on display were as diverse as the issues and interests, but for one rainy Friday night in Cambridge, everyone came together with a common purpose: to celebrate each other’s commitment to making a difference in their community.

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