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Why are you here and nowhere else?

By Conner Chapman

image1I felt like I was in a Dr. Seuss book walking the hallways of Google’s Chicago office last summer. The sleek, white modern architecture contrasted the vibrantly-colored bean bag chairs, producing a creative and inviting environment.  I visited Google Chicago with the LEAD business program at the University of Illinois. My peers and I prepared presentations for a team competition to determine who could most effectively sell Google to an educational institution.

The LEAD Experience brought me “here.” It awakened my drive to enter the world of business. I guess you might say that I’ve always been a businessman, using my naturally expert negotiating skills in getting a ride home from friends or dividing three slices pizza left for two people. At LEAD, I met executives, managers, and entry-level employees in large companies; however, the experience also made me curious about small startup businesses. I hope to explore the multi-faceted roles of entrepreneurs by creating my own startup.

There was another place surging through my consciousness when I was at LEAD that helps to complete my sense of “here.”  It is where I learned how to fry chicken, cook collard greens, and set tables: the Bridge Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The teachers were my grandmother’s friends at the curch. Since middle school, I have been part of a community of volunteers at the soup kitchen operated by Bridge Street. I cook, serve, wash dishes, and mop floors. Often, I am the youngest volunteer and the only teenager. In fact, most of the fellow workers are beyond 60. Sometimes we serve peers my age. When I was younger, we talked about toys. Now we discuss sports, Hip-Hop and video games. The elders love to bestow lessons on the lone teenager like: “We are all God’s Children.” Though I am not as religious as the elders, I politely nod as if I have never questioned the existence of God.

How could I create a national organization pooling the talents of people I met at Bridge Street with the goal of ending hunger in a way that could be profitable for an organization? I am “here” to pose that question in the process of pursuing my academic interests in finance and management. In other words, how do I combine the missions ingrained in two of the most meaningful experiences in my life–LEAD and the Bridge Street Soup Kitchen? I am here to discover solutions to world hunger on a much larger scale than I ever could at Bridge Street.

I hope to start a business that will possess its own unique blend of creativity, compassion and profits as I am “here” to build a future that combines my capitalist drive with a commitment to ending poverty.


Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, is a freshman at the University of Chicago.

Biking from the Park to the Job

Biking from the Park to the Job

by Christopher Lassiter

chrislassiter

The first moment on the job deceives me. I glance around the deserted High Gear Cyclery shop, wondering if keeping myself occupied will be more of a challenge than selling bikes.

I meet Bill, my manager. He smells of cigarettes and coffee when I am within arm’s reach. He shares the basics of advising bikers on nutrition and repairs. Still no customers. His need for nicotine runs high. He exits for a smoke. As Bill puffs outside, a flood of customers enters:

“Can you fix my flat tire?”

“I am looking for a new bike. Can you help?”

I am a nervous and stressed 14-year-old fielding questions from people twice my age, and I love it. Ironically, or maybe not, my first time on a bike is one of my first memories.   

I was four when Pops walked me to the neighborhood basketball court pulling a bike with training wheels for me, while my older brother Jordan rode a two-wheeler. Jordan took a break and I hopped on the two-wheeler while Pops was not looking. After peddling a few feet, I fell. He rushed over. “Are you ok? ” I rose, brushing gravel from my skimmed hand, and persistently pleaded to ride the two-wheeler again. I convinced him. Today Pops says he knew I wouldn’t give up until he said yes. I continued to fall but the short moments of balance were worth the scars. By the end of that day, I rode the two-wheeler without falling.

After nine months of mastering bike sales, Bill designated me to train employees. I loved the new responsibilities but hungered for even more business opportunities. I saw a possibility when a brutal snowstorm hit two years ago.  I looked out my bedroom window to see men with diesel-powered four-wheel-drive trucks rushing from house to house, salting driveways, and using sharp metal plows to cut through the thick ice and snow. Do they really need all that equipment for such a simple job? I thought to myself. Why do they deserve to monopolize business on MY block?!

I answered that question by starting my own snow removal business. I saved $1,000 and invested in a snow blower. Last year, I hit the streets with the first snowstorm. I carefully chose Mrs. Gene’s doorbell,  since she was a friendly neighbor. Yet even she was not an immediate sale.

“Oh, well, usually Joe’s Snow Removal Company does it for me,” she told me.

“I do a quality job, can beat their price and will come any time that you need me.”

“Well, hun, Joe’s comes back and salts the steps so I don’t fall getting to my car in the morning.”

“I do that as well. Everyone on the block is going to be so jealous when they see how salty your steps are after I finish them.”

First sale made! The snow blower paid for itself in a few driveways and business started to boom. Eventually I had blocks of clients. Despite their elite equipment, my competition suffered.

Over time, my salesmanship grew beyond commerce and onto the lacrosse field. During my lacrosse team’s losing season two years ago, I was often the lone voice trying to sell my team on the belief that we could “bring home a ‘W.’” Perhaps it was those selling moments that inspired the team to elect me to be captain, as a junior, last year.

I still work at the bike shop and my business’s growth required me to hire two neighbors to help plow and attract new customers. Motivating them mirrors my roles on the lacrosse field, in the bike shop and, ultimately, my pathway as a natural leader with the initiative to work with people to get tasks done. Imagining what might comprise the open, unknown places on that path excites me as much as the rush of meeting those first customers in the bike shop.

Christopher Lassiter, a graduate of Millburn High School, is a freshman at James Madison University.

Choose One Community

by Amanda Schnell

amandaschnellEssay #2 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words)

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.

What a recipe! An actress, three soccer players, a journalist, a football player, two dancers and a photographer–mixed together on the top floor of the 9/10 building every Wednesday. The result is thousands of dollars raised to build schools in countries that are severely uneducated. We are clearly a diverse group of classmates, yet we all have one thing in common: we believe in the right to education. We are the backbone of the Riverdale’s Pencils of Promise club. This non-for-profit organization raises money and awareness of the problems confronting education around the world. I devote myself to this community because I am aware of how important my own education has been in determining who I am and who I wish to become.

The diversity within this group of peers has taught me to appreciate different ways to approach projects, while valuing my own unique perspective. As one of the original members of the club and one of the oldest, I have taken on a position of leadership. In doing so, I have encouraged an atmosphere in which we take advantage of our diversity and everyone’s ideas are heard and valued. As a result, we have raised more than $5,000 and have also started a New York City-wide Facebook campaign. We also were leaders in organizing the charity’s teen council.

The Riverdale Pencils of Promise club has only been functioning for three years, yet we have accomplished an astonishing amount. This club is profoundly important to me because I so strongly believe in, and wish to expand, its cause.

Amanda Schnell, a graduate of the Riverdale Country School, is a freshman at the University of Michigan.

The Summer Wind of Change

The Summer Wind of Change

Kennedy Austin-Headshotby Kennedy Austin

The summers I knew were gone. Instead of flip flops, I wore sensible pumps. Instead of immersing my toes in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I dipped my feet into adulthood.

When junior year ended, I didn’t feel that same tingly sensation of freedom and excitement. Instead I felt nervous. Ahead of me was a leadership conference, an elective summer-long math course, and an internship at South Bronx Health Clinic. All would be incredibly rich experiences moving me another step closer to my goals of combating economic inequity and a public health career. With a lump in my throat, I leapt forward, feeling eager yet anxious about how I might fit into new worlds.

My summer officially began with a train ride to Washington, D.C. Nominated by my dean, I was selected to be an AnnPower Fellow and attend the Vital Voices Leadership Forum where accomplished female leaders mentor 50 young women. My application included a plan to develop a high school course on economic inequity for privileged youth. Over the past two years I have become increasingly sensitive to inequity in my environment. Traveling around New York City, I’d gone from seeing extreme privilege to seeing people scraping by within minutes. Following Hurricane Sandy, I carried non-perishables to families stranded in public housing while replaying in my head television images of people with resources sheltering in luxury hotels. Seeing people struggle while others wined and dined made me angry. Why should different income levels afford different solutions in times of disaster?

At the Leadership Forum I talked to women from all over the world: a congresswoman from Argentina, a presidential candidate for Cameroon, and a graffiti artist who uses art to prevent domestic violence in Brazil. I encountered the go-getter lifestyle by workshopping elevator pitches, developing platforms, and networking.

The encouragement of mentors and other fellows was life-changing. I cried every day because I had never felt such empowerment. I came home with stars in my eyes looking at my passion to tackle economic inequity and health disparities. I began my internship the following week.

I made the 90-minute trek from Brooklyn to the South Bronx Health Clinic in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. I sat for hours at a lacquered wooden desk. My job was to approach strangers and cheerily ask them to sign up for trips to the farmers’ market, Zumba classes and nutrition workshops. Some said yes and never came. Others were forthcoming, politely saying, “Oh, well, it says you can’t bring kids — necesito a llevar mi niño,” or “I have to work.” To that I smiled, though it probably looked more like a grimace, and said, “That’s a shame.”

After weeks of incessantly pitching programs, participation was low. I told my supervisor that potential clients were forced to choose work over activities and urged her to change the activity times. She refused. I had to accept that I couldn’t change her agenda because this was her job and I was just an intern. However, it didn’t defeat me or the fervor I had gained from AnnPower. I still loved speaking to patients about programs every day.

Previous summers now blur together like dream sequences. I move freely from  tightrope-walking on a college campus in between classes to manning a four-woman canoe in camp regatta, and eating Chipotle until my stomach hurt. Last summer, I didn’t frolic like I had in the past. I did not indulge myself in the ephemeral bliss of unadulterated liberty that only a child knows as vacation months. Rather, much like diving from a cliff, I plunged into the realm of career-building and risk-taking, and I grew. I put myself out there, spoke my mind, and pushed myself forward.

By summer’s end, despite their drabness, my sensible pumps had become more comfortable. So comfortable that I haven’t rushed to put my flip flops back on.

Kennedy Austin, a 2015 Graduate of the Berkeley Carroll School, will be a freshman at Wellesley College in the fall.