Lauren Bergman is a member of the Gates Foundation Discovery Center’s Youth Ambassadors Program. Photo courtesy of Lauren Bergman
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 Lauren Bergman. I’m 16 and in 11th grade at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma. I first heard of Youth Ambassadors Program through a Circle of Friends in Action (COFIA) club email; it talked about the summer workshop [at the Gates Discovery Center]. It looked interesting and aligned with my passions for community service and politics so I applied. I never expected it to become such a huge aspect of my high school experience.
What I’m up to
In the Youth Ambassador Program, I love meeting like-minded peers who are passionate about current events, issues and charities. Working alongside them is inspiring and has opened my mind to new perspectives.
I’ve learned that taking action catalyzes others my age to do the same and leaves a huge impact in my community. For example: my work at Nativity House, where we serve meals to local people who live near my school. Simply cooking and serving meals on a Sunday morning with 10 other students can feed more than 200 people.
During the summer program, I had the opportunity to be part of a team that researched an organization and delivered a presentation to compel our peers to award them a grant.
We toured the headquarters of PATH, where we saw an example of the [type of work] the Gates Foundation funds, and I helped created a presentation to educate people about the harsh working conditions of the chocolate industry.
This year in the Ambassador program, I’m working on a presentation for my school to educate my peers about the work the Gates Foundation is doing. We’re also preparing for The Teen Action Fair this spring (March 24, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. at the Discovery Center which showcases teen leaders. If you are interested in participating in the Teen Action Fair, you can get an application by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the future, I hope to get an internship at the Foundation that aligns with my interest in international business relationships.
Want to get involved, too? What I recommend
I recommend that parents expose their kids to different perspectives. My parents have done a tremendous job at doing this through our travels abroad, their encouragement for me to participate in many service projects through my school and having an interest in other cultures.
You can do this without traveling, too. An example: Visit the International District in Seattle where you can learn about other cultures through food, history and tradition.
Even more important is establishing relationships with different types of people. My work building homes in New Orleans and at homeless shelters showed me how important having shelter and food is — I’ll admit that I’d previously taken that for granted. Here in Seattle, my Japanese and Sri Lankan friends taught me about racism in our own town and how painful it is to be seen as an outsider.
The Gates Foundation made me aware of worldwide issues and gave me opportunities to take action. Once I became aware of my surroundings, I felt a stronger connection to [other] people and more inclined to help. For me, empowerment occurs when I feel needed and capable. ... At a time like this, our world needs more people with empathy.