A Life-Changing Venture with Students in Action

Today’s post comes from Students In Action participant, Elijah Pouges, a student at Carpe Diem Meridian School in Indianapolis.

Carpe Diem Students in ActionMy junior year I joined, and became heavily involved in my school’s community service group, Students in Action. As a result, I have been allowed the chance to meet one-of-a-kind individuals and serve my community in ways that I never thought imaginable. As an overall experience, serving with Students in Action is an opportunity that I would never trade.

My first year in SIA, I was tasked with writing grants in order to fund our ventures; the organization awarding the grants we applied for was the United Way. The grants were appropriately titled the “Youth as Resources” initiative (or YARS, as it is referred to), due to the fact it was given to groups run by youth. The first grant cycle, none of our projects were awarded funding. Despite not being awarded the grants, our group still maintained a positive outlook because of how much we valued the work we were doing. Not being awarded this grant would teach different types of fundraising to our group, thus improving our productivity and skill-set. Besides writing grants, our Students in Action group learned to utilize school functions as a method to allocate funds, as well as to look for in-kind donations from various corporations willing to contribute to our cause. Despite the fact we did not receive the funding from the grants that we had planned for, we were able to execute all of our projects without discrepancies, due to creative fundraising and generous donations from different community partners and corporations we contacted.

Carpe Diem Students at a recent Students in Action trainingThis year, our Students in Action group received 3 YARS grants which we applied for, one of which I served as a key author of. I believe that this would not have been possible if we were not allowed time to grow as an organization and figure out what direction we wanted to go with our projects. Reflecting objectively, I now see the true reason that we were not awarded the grants in our first year. It wasn’t a lack of good ideas that set us back, but the fact that we wanted to do so many things that our end objectives were not clearly defined. Because of this experience, our group has become more unified in our goals and stronger as a unit, even when things take an unexpected turn.

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Getting Inspired with Students in Action in Indy

Saturday brought our Students in Action training in Indianapolis. From my perspective, I loved seeing how many kids were super inspired to be there and sharing their experiences. I pulled together a Storify to show their excitement.

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Dan Bassill & The Tutor Mentor Institute

I’ve been here at the Jefferson Awards for 6 weeks now. The time has flown! The one thing that constantly strikes me and quite often moves me to tears (in the best way!) is the sheer number of stories – the incredible moving public service feats that people all over the country are accomplishing. The Jefferson Awards is all about highlighting the good people are doing – we believe that building a culture of service is key to changing the world for the better.

Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor InstituteAs a part of this and my particular job here, I am relaunching our blog to help tell some of these stories. We’ll be rolling out more features over time, but one is a Where are They Now feature where we will highlight former Jefferson Awards winners and their work. To that end, I recently reconnected to a 1982 Jefferson Awards winner through Twitter (don’t you just love social media?!!).  Daniel Bassill has been tutoring in Chicago for more than 40 years and has literally helped thousands of kids expand their horizons.

After exchanging a few direct messages, Daniel agreed to sit down (virtually) to an interview about his work. An excerpted version of the interview is below. To learn more about Dan or his work with the Tutor Mentor Institute, check out their site.

Question 1:
Can you tell us a bit more about the Tutor Mentor Institute?Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor Institute

The Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC has been growing since 1973. When I began to tutor, I had very little understanding of what would be required of me, but it led me to begin what has become a 40-year journey of tutoring and mentoring, learning about poverty, racism, social justice, income inequality and much more. Every August, I’ve started the new school year with a process of recruiting youth and volunteers, matching them with each other, then coaching and mentoring them for the next nine months with a goal that most of them were still with us as the school year ended, and that the program’s activities would have an influence on the aspirations, learning habits and world view of both youth and volunteers.

Question 2:
You’ve been tutoring in the Chicagoland area since 1973, 40+ years…what an amazing accomplishment. How many kids have you been able to help?

Dan Bassill Tutor Mentor InstituteThe first 20 years of my work were with a program at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters of Chicago. Our estimate is that more than 4000 kids were involved from 1965-1992. In the Cabrini Connections program more than 700 were involved between 1993 and 2011. In both of these programs a large percent of the kids participated multiple years. In the past few years I’ve been able to reconnect with nearly 100 of our former students and volunteers on Facebook and LinkedIn. Some are doing really well. Others still struggle. We’ve done all of this with less than $150,000 a year in operating funds.

Question 3:
What an amazing accomplishment! Do you think the need for tutoring programs is the same today? More needed? What do you see as the obstacles in today’s inner-city education system?

The need has not changed. The obstacles are the same. One of the primary problems is that people want to look as mentoring as a way to improve education outcomes. A second problem is we’re talking about the needs of youth in this country in one conversation, when we should be talking about it in many smaller discussions. Youth living in high poverty city neighborhoods face different challenges than do youth living in affluent communities; the solutions are different in high-density cities than in low population rural areas. Kids who don’t speak English as their primarily language have different challenges. Kids who have learning disabilities or physical disabilities have different challenges. Youth involved in the juvenile justice system, or with incarcerated parents have different challenges. Thus, talking about mentoring as a solution in one large conversation means everyone understands the conversation differently; based on what youth they are trying to help.

In addition, there is no long-term funding stream to support the general operations, and constant innovation and improvement of every program operating in any city, nor is there a university teaching people to lead and build careers in programs like the ones I’ve led. Most funders and media focus on the act of mentoring, and/or on single programs. Few focus on how provide a consistent flow of dollars, talent and operating resources needed to make volunteer based tutor/mentor programs available in every high poverty neighborhood of a city like Chicago.

Question 4:
Why do you think it is important to give back to one’s community, as you have been doing these many years?

I’ve come to realize that the world we want for our own kids and grandkids won’t be what we want it to be until we make a better future for kids who are born in economically disadvantaged areas. I don’t call it giving back. I call it responsibility and self-interest. I hope that more people in business and other sectors will some day look at it with the same self interest and this will cause them to invest more consistent time, talent and dollars helping youth move from birth to work.

Question 5:
What is the most challenging aspect to your work at Tutor Mentor Institute? What is the most rewarding aspect?

I’ve had to spend thousands of hours on weekends, evenings and during my workday learning why I’m doing what I do, and how to do it better. I have constantly struggled to find the dollars, talent and partners to help me do this work in all the ways it needs to be done has been a constant frustration. The rewards are unlimited, unexpected, and unpredictable. I’ve seen kids graduate from high school and college because of the support we’ve provided over many years. I’ve seen kids faces light up like a light bulb when their mentor entered a room for a weekly tutor/mentor session. I’ve had countless people say “thank you” for the work I do.

[Images courtesy of Daniel Bassill]

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Yes They Can!

Here at the Jefferson Awards, we love the power of a big idea, and we especially love it when young people take that idea and run with it. At the core of our Students In Action youth leadership program is the idea that leadership skills are best developed through “learning by doing”. In a nutshell, the program is designed to be a framework and toolkit that empowers kids to thing big, get started and make things happen.

As part of the program, we teach students the power of the press, and show them how to write press releases and organize press events. Just in the last week, we’ve had a couple of examples of students taking this idea and running with it.

Last weekend in Wilmington, Delaware, the Tower Hill Students in Action Leadership Team organized their 2nd Annual ‘Leadership & The Press Event’, with a panel that included U.S. Senator Chris Coons, U.S. Congressman John Carney and Delaware State Senator Mike Katz. Now this wasn’t something that the school organized. It was the Student Leaders themselves who came up with the idea, developed a plan and made it happen.

Earlier this week in Jackson, Tennessee, South Side High School students hosted Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Ellen Ratner, who was there to present Jefferson Awards to four students who had demonstrated outstanding effort and commitment to service in the community. The event attracted the local media and was attended by local elected officials. Again, it wasn’t the school that organized this event. It was the Jefferson Awards Student Leaders who came up with the idea, developed a plan and made it happen.

If you follow the link to the local media coverage from the Jackson Sun (which is one of 150 TV stations, radio station and newspapers that work with us to find outstanding unsung grassroots heroes in communities across America), you see that they refer to a press release on the event. That wasn’t from Fox News – it was the Student Leaders that put that together, and made sure that their event got covered.

Powerful stuff, huh? If people ever ask me if I think this generation of young leaders can help get us back on the right track, my emphatic answer is:





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Youth Service Challenge Checklist

Youth Service Challenge Checklist

  • Get recognized for your existing service projects
  • Opportunity to win cash prizes
  • Opportunity to win celebrity visits
  • Be part of a youth service movement
  • Do lots of extra work!!

The Youth Service Challenge was designed to shine a light on students in service and to engage one million youth over the next three years in student-led service projects.

What we’ve tried to do is to provide a library of service project templates to help you get started, but if you’re already working on a service project (or recently completed one), we’ve thought of that, too. We have a Bring Your Own Service Project (BYOSP) option that you can use to tell us about your project, and be eligible for all the goodies above. It only takes 10-15 minutes, and here is how you get started:

  1. Register for the Youth Service Challenge.  

    Note: If you’re under 13, your teacher or youth organizer will have to register.

  2. Tell us about your project Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to research project ideas. create a new service project or tell us about an existing or recently completed project. You’ll also be able to upload images, and embed Youtube videos.

Learn more about the Youth Service Challenge here!


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50,000 strong and counting!

That’s the number of people that have been recognized with a Jefferson Award  since 1972, and that number grows by about 5,000 each and every year.

Think about that number. Each and every Jefferson Awards recipient has been recognized for making a difference in their community or in the world around them. Collectively, they have changed the world in significant ways. Gandhi once said that we should be the change that we wish to see in the world, and Jefferson Awards recipients are that change, inspiring others to stop saying “someone should do something about that” to “I’m going to do something”.

As we  look forward to our 40th anniversary next year, we’re posing ourself a question. Given all of the technological advances that lets us all connect, stay in touch, share ideas, rally around important causes and drive positive change, how do we connect our Jefferson Awards recipients, our nominees,  our nominators and everyone else who cares passionately about helping others and making the world a better place? How do connect people who might have the answers to each others questions? How do we learn from each other’s successes and challenges that have been overcome?

We’re working on this right now, but we’d love your help. Please share your ideas as a comment.

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www.YouthServiceChallenge.org Kicks Off Campaign on President’s Day to Enlist One Million Student Volunteers

National initiative by Jefferson Awards and Ways To Help encourages youth-led service projects addressing community needs in hunger, health and the environment


Wilmington, Del., Feb. 21, 2011 – Two organizations whose work helps promote a range of positive actions among America’s youth throughout the United States have launched a nationwide effort to shine a light on students in service and to engage one million youth in the next three years in student-led service projects.

The Youth Service Challenge is led by The Jefferson Awards and WaysToHelp and is supported by the Jefferson Awards National Partners – All Stars Helping Kids, Communities in Schools, HealthCorps and UGIVE. The program seeks to promote youth leadership and volunteerism in the areas of hunger, health and the environment, or through projects of the students’ own choosing.

“The Youth Service Challenge is poised to harness the awesome power of America’s youth in public service to their country,” said Robert M. Ford, Executive Director of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service. “Young people throughout the United States have been serving and volunteering within their communities since the earliest days of the republic. This initiative, which, appropriately enough, is being launched on President’s Day, seeks to organize and amplify that spirit of giving back and direct it into areas where these students can make a significant and lasting impact.”

The inaugural year of the Challenge will focus on challenging high school students to undertake service projects that will, in turn, serve as repeatable models for youth of all ages in subsequent years. Students interested in leading or participating in a service project can find “How To” kits on the Youth Service Challenge website (www.YouthServiceChallenge.org). The online kits have been designed to train students to lead a project in each of the following areas: Ending Hunger, Saving the Environment and Improving Health and Wellness. Students also can register a project of their own through the Bring Your Own Service Project (BYOSP) section of the site, thus broadening the breadth of projects from which other students can choose.

“We designed the Youth Service Challenge to engage the Millennials,” said David Boyer, founder of WaysToHelp. “Given their connection to all forms of media, this generation is more socially aware than any before, and although they are young, they can make a substantial contribution toward raising awareness, raising funds and taking action to address the issues that are important to them, especially if they leverage their networks through social media. Not only are we challenging them to get involved in the issues they care about most, but we are helping supercharge their efforts by giving them access to great project templates, media toolkits and social networking tools. We can’t wait to see – and highlight – all the great things they’re doing to make the world a better place.”

Projects registered at www.YouthServiceChallenge.org by April 17, 2011, will be eligible for prizes exceeding $100,000 in value. This includes $15,000 in cash, celebrity visits and other prizes. One group will win a trip to be honored as the “Youth Service Challenge Project of the Year” at the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Academy Award winners Richard Dreyfuss and Ellen Burstyn, HealthCorps founder Dr. Mehmet Oz, M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell, former astronaut Col. Buzz Aldrin, sports legends Ronnie Lott and Cris Collinsworth, former Lt. Governor of Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and FOX broadcaster Chris Wallace will support the Youth Service Challenge by visiting participating schools.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is participating as a National Outreach Partner as are Feeding America, Share Our Strength, Goodwill Industries and Earth Echo. Through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, more than 60 mayors have agreed to participate in the Challenge by encouraging and highlighting service excellence in their cities.


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Jefferson Awards (www.jeffersonawards.org)

In 1972, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard founded the Jefferson Awards as the ‘Nobel Prize’ for Public Service. Today, the mission of the Jefferson Awards is to ‘recognize, inspire and activate volunteerism and public service in communities, workplaces and schools across America’. The Jefferson Awards works with over 150 television stations, radio stations and newspapers across the country to recognize and encourage grassroots ‘Unsung Heroes.’ With Deloitte, the Jefferson Awards has created Students In Action (SIA) to multiply youth service driven by student leaders. As of June 2010, SIA was in more than 300 schools in nine communities.

WaysToHelp (www.WaysToHelp.org)

WaystoHelp was founded by David Boyer, previously of McKinsey & Company and eBay. Its mission is to engage, inspire and enable youth to make a positive difference in the world. The organization’s model is to mobilize youth by using in-school and on-line programming. Since its founding in late 2009, it has helped thousands of teens to get involved in service projects across the country. Follow WaysToHelp at www.facebook.eom/WaysToHelp and www.Twitter.com/WaysToHelp.

All Stars Helping Kids (www.allstarshelpingkids.org)

All Stars Helping Kids was founded by NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott in 1989 with the goal of promoting a safe, healthy and rigorous learning environment for disadvantaged kids in low-income communities. All Stars has been a galvanizing force and vehicle for individuals, professional athletes and corporate partners to invest in the future of children in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Over the last two decades, All Stars has raised more than $20 million to fulfill its mission and has expanded to Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City.  

Communities In Schools (www.communitiesinschools.org)

Communities In Schools (CIS), founded by Bill Milliken in 1977, operates in over 3,000 schools in over 250 communities. Its goal is to work with potential high school drop-outs to offer them the necessary services and tools to stay in school, become college bound and/or attain meaningful employment. One of the founding principles of CIS is for participating students to give back.

HealthCorps (www.healthcorps.net)

HealthCorps was founded by heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2003 to bring America to a tipping point of health. The organization works to help stop teen obesity and get American students to take charge of their own health. HealthCorps empowers citizens and organizations to bring about health reform through community-based projects, and it advocates for policy shifts that put health and physical education back in the core curriculum. HealthCorps is currently in 50 schools.

UGIVE.org (www.ugive.org)

UGIVE.org was founded in 2007 by Cris Collinsworth, NBC sports analyst and All-Pro wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Deanna Castellini, a community volunteer of the Cincinnati Reds ownership family. UGIVE is on a mission to catalyze, excite and empower the next generation of volunteers. Via online volunteer opportunity postings and a proprietary student service tracking system, UGIVE makes volunteering relevant to students, guiding them to give their time and talents to build communities. The UGIVE goal is to create lifelong givers. UGIVE currently operates in over 400 high schools in 15 states. By 2015, the goal is for UGIVE to be in 15,000 to 20,000 schools.


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Onwards and upwards for 2010 JKO winner Heather Wilder

Since last year’s Jefferson Awards National Ceremonies, I’ve remained in touch with one of our JKO winners, Heather Wilder and her mom, Tammy. It’s been an honor and a privilege to see Heather blossom into an inspirational young woman, so it gives me great pleasure to share one of her recent speaking engagements with you.

Here is Heather, presenting at TEDxYSE on November 13th, 2010 in Washington, DC.

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Welcome to our new blog!










Originally uploaded by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker


Here at the Jefferson Awards, life can be a bit of a  blur sometimes. March is always a busy month, as we prepare for the Spring Competitions in each of our Students In Action youth leadership communities, and work with our Jefferson Awards Champions and Media Partners in selecting their local recipients, whowill go on to represent them at our 2011 Jefferson Awards National Ceremonies in Washington D.C.

Right now, we’re very busy  planning the National Ceremonies. Having outgrown East Hall in 2009, we’re again having the main Gala Dinner at the National Building Museum. For those of you who have never had the chance to visit it, you are missing a rare treat, so do follow the link and check it out!

Last but not least, April 1st – April 3rd sees us heading to Cincinnati for the 2nd National Youth Service Summit, which is a weekend-long event  focused on youth and the impact they are having  in their communities and the world around them.

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