Chances are good that you’ve heard of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. From poverty to health to education, the foundation and its partners have improved the lives of billions of people. What you might not know: They’re hoping to inspire the next generation of changemakers, too.
Every month this year, we’ll profile one teen from the Seattle area who is making a difference in their community. Some of the teens featured are involved in the Gates Foundation Discovery Center’s Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP), a year-long service learning program for high school students designed to educate, engage and empower youth.
These teens have their sights set on a better, brighter future. Learn how the Gates Foundation Discovery Center is helping them get there and how you can, too.
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Who am I?
I’m Kelly Chen. I’m 16 and a sophomore at Foster High School in the Tukwila School District. I first heard about the Gates Foundation Discovery Center during my freshman year of high school when I saw a call for applications for the Teen Action Fair. I decided to apply for it along with a group that I joined in middle school, the Race and Equity Committee.
The committee started when I was in middle school; a bunch of English and social studies teachers had discussed founding it and I was part of the initial group of students who joined. We participate in [school] district and [school] board meetings, discuss current events and attend workshops that explore social justice topics. I’ve since started the committee on the high school level. The goal is to provide a safe space for people to voice their opinions.
For the Teen Action Fair last year, I also submitted a project that was about freedom — how we define it and what privileges we each have. As part of the project, I did something called a privilege walk. That’s a group activity where you have a list of privileges and, as they’re read out, you either take a step forward or take a step back depending on if you have that privilege.
What I'm up to
The Gates Foundation invited me to participate in the Teen Action Fair again this year [editor’s note: The fair is scheduled for March 24]. It brings together a bunch of different organizations, both big and small, in and out of school, and they present what they do and how to help the community. Some have activities, presentations or even games.
Last year, we had a poster board where we presented what our committee does. This year, we’re going to discuss our club, of course, but we’re also probably going to host an activity where you can make a bracelet. Each different colored bead would represent a certain person who’s in your life. For example, I might say, “Pick the bead that best represents your significant other.” Then, you’d pick a bead that coordinates to a certain race or gender or another aspect of that person. The completed bracelet helps you discover the diversity around you.
I really enjoyed the fair last year. It was such a new experience; I’d never done something like that before. I was impressed by how many people came up and said, “I really want a race and equity team at my school. How do I do this?” So I’m really excited for this year.
Want to get involved, too? What I recommend
Go for it. It really starts off with talking about the issues or about what you want to see changed in the world. You may think that you’re a small individual student and you won’t make a difference but you will. Those small changes add up.