Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by the Gates Foundation Discovery Center.
Sanika Datar is a 15-year-old sophomore at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore and a Youth Ambassador at the Gates Foundation Discovery Center. ParentMap caught up with this busy and talented young woman to learn more about the nonprofit she founded, Space for Youth, and her passion for improving education.
As a youth change-maker, what issues are most near and dear to your heart?
Access to a more holistic education, empathy and youth advocacy are a few topics I feel strongly about.
I believe that building awareness and tackling literacy gaps is fundamental to solving the problems plaguing our world today, such as the environmental and water crises, intercultural hate and apathy. I feel these problems must be tackled at their roots through education that emphasizes the core universal values that connect us as human beings.
How did you become involved in the youth programming initiatives at the Gates Foundation Discovery Center?
I became interested in the Discovery Center’s youth programs — the Teen Action Fair and the Youth Ambassador program — a few years ago. It was fascinating to see the incredible opportunities participants got to engage in, which are not easily accessible to many young students.
I attended their summer workshops while I was in middle school and really enjoyed the experience of having conversations with people who care about the important issues today, such as stereotypes, climate change and mental health. It felt great to be part of a cohort that inspires real social change related to these topics, raises awareness locally and globally, and presents unique ways to solve these issues.
Tell us more about the founding of Space for Youth and its initiatives.
When I was in middle school, I participated in community stewardship projects, such as building signs for park facilities, environmental cleanness and making signboards about native plants for trails. This experience helped me learn to design projects and devise creative ways of learning to engage and empower youth.
This led me to start my nonprofit organization, Space for Youth, which provides a platform to promote core universal values and raise awareness through annual projects that consistently engage youth. We embrace a “learning as a playground” model to tackle problems through outside-the-classroom, hands-on activities. Our projects help explore, empower and educate youths in the areas of environment, empathy, entrepreneurship and equity.
Space for Youth has four core initiatives:
- Teaching my younger sister was something I always enjoyed, and this interest sparked the idea for Vitalize Earth Day. This was created to develop and rally creative activities centered around Earth Day to teach young kids the importance of environmental preservation and how to live with a sustainable mindset.
- The Kirkland Children’s Fair is a weekend marketplace event in downtown Kirkland. It’s an opportunity for children to spread their entrepreneurial wings in a fun and engaging way, and gain the practical experience of selling a product in a fun setting. The event has grown in scale over the past couple of years, with more than 60 kids participating, including some from California and Oregon! This year, we will be hosting the event in July as part of the annual Kirkland Uncorked Summer Festival.
- Healing Through Music is a musical initiative to raise funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatric research projects.
- The Kindness Explorers project demonstrates how people across cultures can unite towards a common goal by showing compassion through activities around social-emotional learning, character development and mindfulness.
Through these small, incremental civic engagements, it’s my goal that Space for Youth will to grow to provide access to more holistic education and seed a culture of young change-makers to catalyze a larger positive change in our world.
What advice do you have for other youths looking to get involved in community service?
I believe youth advocacy is very powerful, and teens should strive for ways to make a positive influence and encourage their peers to be change-makers. When young people show leadership, it’s very inspiring for others to know that anyone can do anything, no matter their age. Any small action counts to make a difference, and if everyone plays their part, it can create a big change.
Any advice for parents on how to support their child in the pursuit of their passion?
I think parents play a large role in supporting their kids. They can help guide the way to seek new opportunities that align with their kids’ passions. Having good communication and a nurturing relationship between kids and their parents can allow them to pursue their goals, big and small.