As a freshman at N.C. State University, Adam Dunn of Apex wanted to think big picture - and he wondered how he could encourage young people to make a difference.
Why wait until college to harness the power of teens? Why not ask students to change the world in high school?
Those questions led Dunn, 22, and fellow Park Scholarship recipient Steven Mazur to form Triangle Youth Leadership Services in 2009, an annual two-day conference at N.C. State that teaches high school students throughout North Carolina problem-solving, entrepreneurial and project-management skills.
This summer, Triangle Youth Leadership Services won a $2,500 grant from Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change. Through the nationwide contest, applicants proposed projects that address a social issue in their community or throughout the world.
Triangle Youth Leadership Services was one of five winners from among roughly 500 applicants.
During the conference each spring, high school students brainstorm ways to solve issues such as urban homelessness, sustainable agriculture and school bullying.
Dunn, who is studying physics and architecture, said the group will use the money to mentor students who have “the most promising idea” from the conference. He also has plans to expand the program to other universities around the country.
“High school students have the potential to change their communities right now. We help get them there,” Dunn said in his application video for the contest.
Until now, the program hasn’t had the resources to keep up with conference participants and how they’re using the skills they learned. Student volunteers at N.C. State help run Triangle Youth Leadership Services.
One idea from a conference was to put hog waste in barrels for farmers to use as fertilizer. Another was a “bring your own box” fundraiser for the homeless, in which students suggested the creation of a cardboard-box city to raise money and awareness about homelessness.
With the grant, Dunn hopes Triangle Youth will help bring a future idea to fruition.
The conference has space for about 75 students each year. The group receives about 150 applications, about half of which come from students who live in the Triangle. Any high school student in the state can apply.
“I definitely consider it a success by looking at the number of students who apply and the number of student volunteers we get each year,” Dunn said. “We’ve struck something that people care about and is not available by any other means.”