Deborah Sepulveda (far right) with students at the Teen Action Fair. Photo courtesy of The Gates Foundation
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
In her nearly seven years at the Gates Foundation, Deborah Sepulveda has worked with some pretty inspiring people.
As the manager of public programs, she manages all youth and public programs at the Discovery Center where she interacts with both Gates employees and the public to develop programs on a variety of topics ranging from family homelessness in the Northwest to malaria in Africa.
Among other projects, Sepulveda oversees the yearlong Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP) at the Gates Foundation. The service learning program brings high school students together to discuss how they can best make a difference in their communities. The goal: Empower youth to educate, motivate and inspire global awareness and action.
We’ve highlighted several YAP members in recent installments of our ongoing series, Teens Take Action; this month, we talked to Sepulveda herself about her recommendations for young people, their families and our world.
Why is it important for teens to volunteer?
For [young people], volunteering can develop connections with people and communities that are working hard to make an impact on local and global issues. These experiences can open their minds to new ideas, perspectives and views. It also connects youth to organizations doing great work in our community and empower them to see themselves as participants in solving problems.
Volunteering can also help youth take new risks, challenge their biases and assumptions and help build their confidence. As one YAP student said: "Stepping outside of my comfort zone unleashed so many different interests and opportunities. It made me want to make the most of what I can do as a person."
What do you recommend for parents who are interested in getting their teen to volunteer more? How should they start that conversation?
We live in an amazing city for getting involved. Seek out opportunities in your community that focus on the issues you care about or you want to learn more about. The Discovery Center has great resources on how to find places to volunteer and our free guided tours focus on ways to take action.
Look for resources in your school; maybe consider a club or group that you might want to help or start your own. Everyone can help make a difference and there are so many ways to get involved.
At Gates, we host an annual program at the Discovery Center called the Teen Action Fair where we give youth a platform to tell their story on how youth are making a difference. It’s a great program for youth and families to learn more about where they might volunteer or get involved.
What have you learned in your work with teens?
Youth want to be involved, taken seriously and deserve to be heard. Young people have led the charge on some of the biggest shifts in social change and justice throughout history and we continue to learn from their ideas to change the world.
In many ways, I think youth are way ahead of adults in their ability to be inclusive, think empathically and have honest and courageous conversations. Take the time to listen to their questions, ideas and feedback and we will definitely have a better world.