In recent months, we’ve seen teens all over the country leading the way and using their voices for positive change. That’s what the young people in our monthly series Teens Take Action also do.
These are Seattle-area teenagers who are making big things happen in their communities. Often, that’s thanks in part to their work with local programs, from the year-long service learning Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP) at the Gates Foundation to monthly commitments at some of our area’s best-known museums.
By educating, engaging and empowering youth, these programs offer teens a way to take their ideas on how to improve the world and make them real.
This month, we talk to Beth Girma, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, about how her work with the Gates Foundation Discovery Center and the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) has helped her learn more about herself and, by extension, her contribution to the world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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 Beth Girma. I’m 17 and a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School. I’ve been involved with the Gates Foundation’s Discovery Center Youth Ambassadors Program for a year; I learned about it at last year’s Teen Action Fair [hosted annually at the Discovery Center] but it was the Center’s summer workshop at the foundation that really grabbed me.
I was in a weeklong workshop where every day we’d come in and work on a new project. We got to advocate for different nonprofits and learn about their work; that really inspired me.
I’ve also been a part of the Teen Arts Group at SAM for two years. We give regular tours to the public and we also host an event called Teen Night Out. It’s basically a big celebration at the museum with performers and music. Plus, everything in the museum is free for [high-school aged] teens to explore.
With both programs, I had a chance to experience something that I always was interested in but didn’t think I could get into. I learned a lot about my own interests that way.
What I’m up to
During the summer workshop [at Gates], I got to advocate for a nonprofit called One By One. They help women in developing countries who’ve had serious injuries due to an obstructed birth and often struggle to get the medical attention and community support that they need.
I had a strong personal connection with One By One: They do work in Ethiopia, which is where my family is from. While working with the nonprofit, I talked to my mom about the project. We talked about how she knew women, including friends and distant family members, who had suffered birth complications. Some had lost the support of their families. Others had even passed away.
Learning about that personal connection really made me want to do more work and got me really interested in nonprofit advocacy, an interest I want to learn more about in college.
Want to get involved, too? What I recommend
Look for programs like the ones at the Gates Foundation and at SAM and encourage your kids to try them. I was very nervous working with both of these groups but they were the best things I could have done.
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.