From the first day of the PresenTense Colorado Fellowship, I found myself with a team of fifteen other motivated and passionate teens, all united under the mutual mission of community enhancement. At orientation, after initial introductions and icebreakers, the cohort proceeded to discuss the experiences and desires that gave impetus to the group’s philanthropic aspirations. As we delved into everyone’s inspirations and stories, I was consistently impressed by the Fellows’ displays of altruism and creativity, enhanced by a pervading sense of responsibility to improve the world. Although not everyone knew exactly what topic they wanted to address at the beginning of the fellowship, from the onset of the process, the excitement to learn and strive for humanitarianism was palpable.
PresenTense Colorado is a social entrepreneurship project design fellowship for Jewish teens, based on the accredited method of “Design Thinking”: a systematic approach towards addressing and solving a pertinent social issue in an innovative, sustainable and impactful manner. The nascent stages of the process were rooted in introspective reflection, discerning the activities and issues that personally impact us. For my personal endeavor, I wanted to integrate several prominent themes and passions in my life in order to assist underprivileged communities. Throughout my life, I have cherished a strong family foundation and enriching experiences that refined my character, none more memorable or galvanizing than learning to prepare homemade meals and reading together with my parents. Every child deserves to reap the benefits of these essential, edifying opportunities, however, many families and communities lack the education, incentives, monetary resources or means to promote literacy practice or to prepare nutritious foods. Accordingly, I decided to pursue a solution to these integrated quandaries.
The ensuing step in the Design Thinking progression, appropriately titled the “empathy” stage, was characterized by community immersion and customer segmentation. Fellows were responsible for interviewing several professionals on their topic, representatives of the possible target population, or knowledgeable peers in order to garner information about their personal subject matter. From these eye-opening experiences, I discovered the most pressing needs of the low-income communities that I visited, and additionally, I uncovered the gaps in interventional literacy and nutrition education programs serving my target population. All of the information and resources inspired the fundamental concept and philosophy for implementation of my project, “Cooking Up Literacy.”
After researching a number of approaches towards ameliorating our selected issues, we were charged to apply the Design Thinking process. Throughout the Fellowship, during exclusive seminars and instructive meetings, we received specialized training from local entrepreneurial and philanthropic professionals and engaged in various activities that reinforced the ideas accentuated by Design Thinking. One of the most memorable activities was a “prototyping” simulation, in which fellows had the opportunity to prepare a scaled model of their project and practice promoting the idea to outside “investors.” PresenTense assisted in the maturation of every fellow’s enterprise, first by encouraging the formulation of a “Minimal Viable Product,” or the baseline endeavor to accomplish our highlighted target. From this foundational goal, the program delineated the proper entrepreneurial progression, which covered modeling, prototyping, budgeting, fundraising, “friendraising” (or rallying volunteers), and finally, pitching.
With the support and guidance from PresenTense, I created and initiated an enterprise — “Cooking Up Literacy” — based in social entrepreneurship. The initiative, rooted in the value of establishing a vibrant community dynamic, is an education tool for at-risk youth and families to learn about nutritious eating habits and to incentivize reading practice in the home. There are two main components to the endeavor: the first is a direct educational component, in which children and families prepare healthy food and read a nutrition-focused book in a controlled environment with an existing literacy or dietetics organization. Afterwards, the participants are supplied the physical resources to reinforce and replicate what they learned, provided in the form of a package complete with a recipe and food to cook and a nutrition book to read together at home. I successfully tested the project through a local organization, partnering with their children’s cooking class for low-income families, and we continue to maintain an enduring relationship. With funding from PresenTense and other sources, I plan on pursing my endeavor through the summer with the overarching objective of organizing a long-term implementation plan for the project. The PresenTense Fellowship has been an incredibly influential and inspiring aspect of my life, and I will never forget the special relationships, ventures and lessons that encapsulated the experience.
Interested in learning more about PresenTense Colorado? Join us at our Fellow Showcase on May 21st from 4 pm – 7 pm. Fellows will be sharing their projects with the community at this interactive event. We hope to see you there!