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SPARK Boston 2016 Impact Award finalists

The award shines a spotlight on young adults aged 20-34 doing outstanding work to improve the City.

A selection committee comprised of SPARK Boston Council members reviewed more than a hundred nominations in order to select these finalists. A round of online voting will determine the winners in each category.

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    We want to empower 20- to 34-year-olds to play a greater role in planning for the City’s future.


  • Activism and issue advocacy

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    My name is Andrea Macone. I work at UMass Boston in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and I am a graduate student in American Studies and an Emerging Leaders Fellow in the College of Management's Center for Collaborative Leadership. I chair UMB's Recovery Task Force, a collaborative forum that seeks to create a safe and open environment for campus community members in or seeking recovery and their allies. We specifically focus on supporting individuals in their academic, personal and professional growth; advising key stakeholders; and engaging with the community. 

    I myself am a person in recovery, and this drives everything I do. I am motivated by the idea that I can only keep my recovery by sharing it with others, and in doing so I can hopefully help even one student or employee get through a difficult day on campus and return the next day instead of giving up.

    Big picture, I hope to one day see an end to the stigma associated with addiction because it is a deadly barrier to seeking help. It is also the biggest challenge to the work we do. Talking about addiction makes people uncomfortable, even though every member of society is affected in some way. As a country we have begun to shift from viewing addiction as a criminal issue to a public health crisis, and Massachusetts and Boston in particular have taken leadership roles in this movement. We on the Task Force have participated in Recovery High School Day at UMB, partnered with Mayor Walsh's Office of Recovery Services, and are planning an interdisciplinary colloquium to discuss addiction in an academic context. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we are working steadfastly to humanize the disease and create opportunities for empathy to replace animosity. 

    Identifying as a person in recovery at my workplace is not something I expected to do, but Mayor Walsh and others in leadership positions who openly identify as being in recovery themselves have paved the way for more of us to step up and do the same. In openly acknowledging how my past has led to my present, and defying the shame that has been historically attached to a past like mine, I hope to inspire others to take action. I am living proof that people in recovery are capable of impressive accomplishments not only despite of, but as a result of, having experienced and overcome addiction. I am proud, not ashamed, to be in recovery. It is my greatest success.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    If there's something you're passionate about, find a way to weave that passion into what you do. If you don't feel like you have the knowledge, seek out training and mentors who will help uncover your skills and potential. Think about where you can make the most impact, and get involved so you understand the players and politics. Own your story, ask for help, and be confident about what you have to offer. There are thousands of people waiting for change, but being a part of making that change happen is far more rewarding. This is our city, and it's our responsibility and privilege to help shape it.

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    My name is Mario Paredes. I am a lifelong learner and community activist. I am the proud son of two hard-working parents from Guatemala who came to the United States in the 1980's. I moved to Boston in 2011 to obtain my Master's Degree in Higher Education at Harvard. After years of working in various school and non-profit settings, I am now back in school as a law student in Boston University School of Law. I am also serving as a Board Member Centro Presente, a member-led immigrant rights nonprofit organization in East Boston.

    I am proud to be part of the movement to keep the immigrant voice at the forefront of the conversation, both in the classroom and in the community at large. I am motivated by the humility and resilience of the immigrant community and other marginalized communities. Despite the struggles faced by many hardworking families, including my own, they have so much potential to do great things in this world. We can help change the narrative by listening to the stories of immigrant families and shedding light on their lives, their values and their contributions to society. 

    Last year I was given the opportunity to help lead a civic engagement campaign called Our Voices, Our Vote. I was also able to travel to the US/Mexico Border and the Northern Triangle in Central America in order to learn more about the root causes of immigration and the conditions that immigrants face in route to the United States. I was able to retrace the footsteps of millions of immigrants, including my parents, in order to be a better advocate here in Boston. I am ready to take all the knowledge I have gained and share it with the communities whom I wish to serve. 

    Boston is a hub for knowledge, innovation, education, ideas, history and diversity. We have some of the brightest minds, and our city is rapidly attracting new businesses and people from around the world. But will rapid growth mean rapid gentrification, or will it mean inviting marginalized communities to be part of that growth? Will we simply focus on students graduating from the highest ranked schools, or will we also invest in schools that need our attention? Will we welcome immigrants, or blame them for our problems? 

    There are not many cities in the United States that have as much human capital as Boston, so I hope that the city can take advantage of our resources and show the rest of the country the importance of investing in all people. When tourists come to Boston today, they come to learn about the birth of the United States. I want tourists one hundred years from now coming to visit Boston because of its place in history for being a welcoming city who invested in all people regardless of their nationalities, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Find the right balance between confidence and humility. I want aspiring leaders to have the confidence to know that they deserve to accomplish all of their dreams. I want them to be confident in who they are and what each bring to the table. Regardless of their background or hardships, they should know that there are people like me who are always rooting for them. I think it is also important for them to never forget where they came from and the many people who fought to open doors for them. I want them to always give back to others because we don’t live in a zero-sum society. The more we can uplift each other the better off we will be as a community. ​

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    My name is Kevin Lilly. I’m 25 years old, I’m from Dorchester, and I am the the founder and executive director of Samaritans Steps. We are a nonprofit that works to empower and support Boston’s youth, veterans, and other disenfranchised members of the community through advocacy, education, resources, and more. 

    I started the organization in 2014 during my senior year in college after convincing my department chair into letting me work on it as my internship. In school I studied entrepreneurship, and for me Samaritans Steps is the perfect marriage of my love of entrepreneurship as well as my love of serving others. The organization seeks to help the forgotten, looked over, and marginalized in the city of Boston, but we do it in a different way than has been done before. We make service fun. 

    Whether they’re serving with us or being served by us, everyone has a blast interacting with Samaritan Steps. Serving others should be something people enjoy doing, not something that feels like a chore or an obligation. We hosted a storytime for homeless children a few months ago, and the Attorney General came out to read to the kids. We actually convinced the state trooper on her security detail to join in the fun by reading “Where the Wild Things Are,” to the children. The way he lit up was incredible. He got really into it, you could tell it meant a lot both to him and the families of the children. Moments like that remind me that it’s important to make our events fun and engaging for everyone involved.

    I wish I had a budget that matches our big ideas, but until we get there it forces me to be strategic and creative with what we do have. Since founding Samaritan Steps, we have raised and distributed over $13,000 worth of clothing and directly served over 500 homeless individuals. We have created two scholarship programs (and are currently working on a third), launched the Rainbow Bridge Initiative which brings the faith community and LGBTQ community together to end youth homelessness, supported and advocated for important legislation providing funds for housing ad support services to assist homeless youth, and started a campus initiative creating student led clubs to address the immediate needs of homeless students.

    It is incredibly challenging to try and have maximum impact with very little resources and money. It might sound crazy, but something as simple as a smile on a child's face or a hug from a parent is enough to remind me why it’s worth it to keep going. That said, my vision for Boston's future is one where my organization and others like it wouldn't need to exist. A future where the idea of homeless youth is a thing of the past, just like T tokens. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Just start. A lot of people hold on to their excuses for why they don't start. If you’re passionate about something, you'll make a way to make it happen. I would also add, remember why you started. Being a leader is going to get tough, and you'll have moments where you’re overwhelmed by all the pressure and stress. When you remember why you started in the first place, you realize that giving up isn't an option.

    Lastly building genuine relationships with the people you lead and serve is key. You can't effectively serve people you don't know, or lead people you don't care about. 

    Arts and culture

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    My name is Raber Umphenour. I am a filmmaker living and working in Boston, pursuing the development of affordable artist live-work housing for Boston artists; with a community goal of creating 250 affordable studios for artists to live and work in over the next 5 years. 

    As a filmmaker living and working in Boston, I know how valuable it is to be able to put down roots and commit to a community; that's hard to do when you keep having to move your studio time and time again. Eventually, I wanted something that would last.

    In 2013, the building myself and some of my fellow artists were living and working in was put on the market for sale. We responded by creating a new non-profit company, and in a period of 14 business days, we raised over $1.1 million as a down payment to purchase the building outright. Over the months that followed, we secured an additional $19 million in financing, and purchased the building - securing it as an 89 studio artist live-work building that would be affordable for artists in perpetuity.

    As Boston real estate prices rise, the development of affordable housing continues to be be a challenge. Finding inventive ways of securing sites for the development of more affordable live-work housing is a huge challenge.

    Boston; as an affordable city, with commerce, universities, culture, tech all living and working side-by-side. WE have a chance to write this story together, and show other cities how this dream of inclusion and diversity can be achieved.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Be passionate but pragmatic. Focus on developing relationships with people you disagree with. Learn from them, understand how they work and how they think, and exercise empathy in your vision and goals. Build and nourish a great team: the success we have had and are striving to build on wouldn't be possible without many others.

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    My name is Hailey Magee. I'm a musician, a community-builder, and an advocate. I’m the founder and director of Emerging Boston Area Singer-Songwriters (EBASS), a 700-member community-based organization that provides a space for musicians and music-lovers alike to celebrate homegrown local talent, the beauty of unfiltered artistic expression, and the healing power of community. I am also the founder and owner of Talisman Music Group, a local artist consulting business that elevates homegrown artists to their maximum potential. 

    Live music has the ability to unify disparate groups of people around a shared passion. Live music provides those who have been silenced the opportunity to experience complete catharsis and share their experiences with listening audiences. Live music brings depth, meaning, community, and critical thought to societies that have been numbed by technology and social isolation. Most importantly, live music bridges our differences and brings us together in pure, unadulterated celebration.

    It can be challenging to communicate the value of the arts when we as a society are accustomed to valuing resources based strictly on their productivity. But artists are not expendable, and they provide an incredible service. One of my biggest goals through my work with EBASS and Talisman Music Group is to contribute to a cultural shift that urges businesses, organizations, and individuals to appreciate the value of live music, and demonstrate that value through adequate compensation. I think that we as a city can do more to inspire collaboration between sectors to create opportunities for the people of Boston to gather and celebrate the passions that unify us.

    Hold up a magnifying glass to any of Boston’s neighborhoods and you will find countless pockets of people creating art, building businesses, and serving their fellow community members. Our city is brilliantly alive, home to a beautiful, diverse assortment of individuals with boundless passion and motivation. In my vision for Boston’s future, the arts are universally understood as the catalysts for bridging the divisions between us, and every sector works together to bring these opportunities to the people of Boston.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    The most meaningful relationship-building happens in-person - not over the phone and not over email. Do not underestimate the importance of in-person meetings. By turning up to meet others, we have the opportunity to learn that people have fantastically complex, nuanced stories; they make diverse contributions to the world. Oftentimes, those surprises are only unearthed as a conversation unravels in-person. Don’t ever sacrifice the opportunity to learn more about a person in an honest way. My life is far richer for having taken the time to forge meaningful connections with members of this community.

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    I am “Mistah” Matt Parker. Youth Worker, Poet/Arts Enthusiast, and Community Organizer. I have been an avid fan of poetry since my childhood, and used it as a lifesaver during my own tumultuous adolescence. I began to share my poetry and encourage others to use it as a coping tool in my career field as a youth development professional. I have been called on to serve, to help, to guide, and to create community. 

    Each day I try to find a way to impact the youth of our city through art and action. I am the coordinator of the Bowdoin/Geneva V.I.P. (Violence Intervention Prevention) Initiative, which builds healthy community relationships using a public health approach to violence and supports resident responses to acute instances of trauma. I also organize the Critical Breakdown Community Open Mic (open to the entire community at no cost), Boston's Youth Got Talent Showcase, and a monthly "Write & Wine Nite" for adults. I am a founding member of The Society Of Urban Poetry (SOUP) Boston; a performance poetry collective that integrates art and social justice issues in the Boston/Greater Boston community, and current artist in residence at the City Pop Egleston.

    Through many capacities and positions of my career, I aim to give our community a healthy outlet for expression. I have taught poetry in classrooms, campuses, and after school programs, giving youth the tools they need to effectively communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. I never tire of seeing those same kids share their art and themselves, and be celebrated by their peers and community. 

    I see more investment in our city’s youth already, and while there have been great improvements, there's still room for more. I wish so many more people, especially youth, were prospering from the growth and innovation that is happening in Boston. I wish that I could do more to let the whole city see how important it is to grow the next generation and nurture their creativity. I also think we would all benefit from having affordable artist spaces in each community, so artists of all ages (both trained/untrained, career/hobbyist) can have access to resources to further their craft, and communities can gather to celebrate them.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Be the change you want to see, and inspire the next generation to do the same. Always pay it forward. Someone made our opportunities available to us, we should be charged with doing the same, if not more for our successors.

    Community building

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    I am Shavel’le Olivier. A resident of the Mattapan community and co-chair of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. I am the co-founder and co-organizer of Mattapan on Wheels, a major biking event created to address issues of safer infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians in Mattapan. As the Youth Coordinator for the coalition, I work to secure grants, hire young people, and create a curriculum focusing on health and wellness. Lastly, I assist the Mattapan Square Farmers’ Market with the set up/breakdown of the market, help farmers’ with digital payment, and help promote the market through social media networks.

    But who am I really? I am a 24-year-old Haitian-American woman. I am sister to three sisters and a brother. I am an aunt. I am the first person on my mother’s side of the family to obtain a college degree (and the second on my dad’s side!). My passion is community organizing, and wanting to bring the community of Mattapan together. I am a networker, trying to pull together the many organizations in Mattapan to work together instead of in silos.

    I continue this work because of the real connections I have made with the community leaders and residents of the Mattapan community. The residents and community leaders have become my friends and mentors. I feel I really have the support of the whole community behind me. The MFFC leadership team, comprised of women of colour, have become my role models. The leadership team showed me that you are truly passionate about something when you do it on a volunteer basis and expect nothing in return. They have helped me to develop confidence within myself and the belief that I am capable of being a leader.

    My greatest success has been revitalizing the MFFC Vigorous Youth program. The youth wing of the coalition is a major component of MFFC. In the summer of 2016 I worked to bring back the youth energy into the coalition after 3 years. I was able to do this by implementing activities and projects to develop their leadership skills and creating an atmosphere where the youth enjoy themselves and work collaboratively together. The teens accomplished a great deal: leading bikers at the annual Mattapan on Wheels event, volunteering at the Mattapan Square Farmers’ Market, participating in a 5 week intergenerational cooking class, and creating wonderful art reflecting on their experiences with MFFC. I was thrilled that the teens were able to gain skills, experience new things, and feel empowered.

    The empowerment, encouragement, and support MFFC gave to me as a youth participant 6 years ago is what I want to give back to other youth. I have come a long way from the shy and quiet teen I once was. Although I am doing all of these wonderful things for the community and the youth, I sometimes doubt myself. But I know that I am making an impact, and I can’t give up now.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Creating relationships is the best way to accomplish your passion and what you believe in. If you have a passion for a program, organization, idea, etc., there are SO many people that will help you to achieve your goal. You may think that no one cares, but someone will notice what you are striving for. There are plenty of older adults who share your passion and can guide you on your journey as they have been on it. There are teens who will be able to help by giving their unique perspective on how they see the future. We, as millennials, are shaping the future!

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    My name is Sherri Snow. I am the Executive Director the North End Music and Performing Arts Center and I inspire community members, especially youth, to experiment with artistic programming in their daily lives. I believe art can make a difference in youth lives, their development and their well-being. Art can also unite diverse communities like the North End, unlike any other discipline or focus in today's society. 

    I am proud to see NEMPAC programs lead to more community engagement under my leadership. These programs include musical education as well as performing arts events and special projects. The NEMPAC Children's Music Theatre Program serves between 30 to 55 students per year. The NEMPAC Opera Project, presented at Faneuil Hall, serves over 80 local professional musicians and performing artists each year. Our audience of community members, new partnerships with local schools including BPS Eliot School, St John Catholic School allow us to reach many more people and create new jobs for local musicians, educators, and other residents. 

    With these new programs, the organization’s annual operating budget has increased by 54% over four years from $206,000 in 2012 to $449,950 in 2016. Our biggest challenge right now is supporting all that  programmatic growth with adequate staff and facility space. At this time, NEMPAC borrows space from other local community organizations like the Nazzaro Community Center and the ABCD Center. We also use after-school space at our local school partnership sites. We currently operate out of a small building donated to us from the Robert White Foundation, a foundation run by the City of Boston. In this space, we still see over 90 students per week in our private music instruction program. Our goal for 2016-17 is to find a devoted facility space that can better match our programming needs and be a place to continue building the relationships and artistic experiences for our community. 

    My vision for Boston's future includes preserving the music and the performing arts in our communities as well as supporting music education in our local schools. In our city, we have some of the nation’s most highly acclaimed music institutions such as Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. These musicians and artistic directors deserve to be supported by our city and local communities in order for them to continue to creative quality, innovative programming, thinking "outside of the box" as we say at NEMPAC. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    To listen the needs in your community and be sure to use your leadership skills to voice these needs and/or make change. NEMPAC started in 2001 by a group of local mothers who sought out artistic programming for their own children. They believed their community needed an artistic place for their children to grow and they created this organization. Today, because of the parents, musicians, educators, school leaders, Art is a priority and an essential part of a child's youth and development. Anything is possible. If you have an idea, are passionate and you have the support of your community, you can make change. 

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    My name is Sahar Lawrence. I am a woman who cares deeply about the well being of my community. I am someone who leads by example. I developed a passion for community development in low-income areas from working many years in the nonprofit sector and from being a longtime resident of Roxbury. I am the Chair of the Grove Hall Trust (GHT) and a Community Engagement Officer for Urban Edge Housing Corporation. Along with the Trustees of GHT, I direct grant dollars to residents, groups, and/or small organizations that want to enhance the quality of life in Grove Hall.

    The Grove Hall Trust was founded on the belief that communities know what they need to improve their outcomes, and sustainable impact comes from shared risk and responsibility. Our foundation is built upon the principles of pooling knowledge and resources, and fostering collaboration between families, the community, and donors. Our goal is to improve community capacity and leadership while increasing the flow of educational opportunities, jobs, capital and social connections that can help end the cycle of poverty in our neighborhood.

    As the Chair of the Grove Hall Trust my biggest challenge is keeping my peers involved while finding innovative ways to grow. As the neighborhood dynamics change, I hope to help Grove Hall residents have more access to opportunities that strengthen social connections and equity while also empowering them to have control of their story.

    My greatest success so far is the collective success of the Grove Hall Trust. The Trust has been able to thrive despite board turnover. We have great things in the works and we are successful because of the collaborative nature of our mission to enhance the quality of life in the Grove Hall neighborhood. By partnering with community institutions such as the Burke High School to host a resource fair, or SkyLab Boston to train the next generation of young women entrepreneurs, we are making our mark in the city.

    My vision is to see more young women of color as thriving business owners, as professionals in the STEAM(ED) field, and overall, as movers and shakers in the city. I am motivated by my mother. Despite the challenges she has dealt with, she is a force to be reckoned with within the community development and community organizer fields. She is a resource and advocate for so many people. I aspire to be more like her. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    "Take ownership of what you do before someone takes it for you." I heard this quote from Melissa Kimble of #blkcreatives during her recent speaking engagement in Roxbury. ​

    Entrepreneurship and innovation

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    My name is Sarah Case. I'm a program manager at NEVCA and founder of TechGen, focusing on connecting university students and the local innovation ecosystem. I am a California girl who made Boston my home, and I owe it to my friends and network who helped me get connected and launch my career here. I'm also passionate about helping people.

    TechGen is the bridge between New England’s best university student and its top healthcare and technology companies. Our mission is to create personal connections between members of these two communities in ways that serve the interests of both, as well as the local innovation economy as a whole. TechGen consists of both an online platform and a social and educational program, highlighting the best of what it means to work and play in Massachusetts to ensure more students stay and build their futures here after graduation. 

    Building something from the ground up is daunting, exciting, hard, fun and incredibly rewarding. TechGen was an idea two years ago and it is incredibly gratifying to work so hard and see it come together. Hearing student and company stories about great internships and experiences always remind me that we're making a difference.

    On the other hand, building something from the ground up is also challenging. There are so many unknowns for us and for our audience. We have to determine the "ground rules" and then educate students, companies and stakeholders on how we work, why we're here, and why they should engage. And all of that is so dynamic. In our first fall running the platform, we learned that while both students and companies are eager to connect, needs and timelines are much more varied compared to spring. So we’re working to adapt to this different hiring season. We’re also always expanding the TechGen community by going to more campuses and attending events across the community. We're essentially building the car as we drive it!

    Boston is an incredible city for a lot of different reasons, one of which is that we have some of the best colleges and universities in our backyard, which breeds awesome ideas, great companies, etc. But as someone who came here for school and stayed, I didn't see clear paths to get involved. Whether it is volunteering, political action, networking for a career, etc. I didn’t really know how to get started. And there is so much here! So my vision is a Boston in which there are clear entry points into this community for young people making it even easier to call Boston home and to feel as though you're part of the fabric of this great city.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Pay it forward. I actually have a list of 12 or so "tips and tricks" I share when I present at local colleges and universities but I think pay it forward is at the top. It's so important to be aware of those around you and always be ready and willing to help someone else out. If you're learning, growing and excelling, it's likely because you have someone or a group of people supporting and guiding you, so make sure to return the favor!

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    My name is Ian So. I am the co-founder/owner of Chicken & Rice Guys. I am the CEO and responsible for setting the internal direction, expansion and culture of the company, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and building relationships with external partners. My greatest success so far has been starting my own business, and growing what was one food truck we bought online, to now a 5 food truck, 4 restaurant company. As the ultimate leader of my company, I am my own biggest challenge. We have doubled in revenue and in employees every year. And as we have doubled, I have had to keep pace as a leader and double my leadership ability.

    Starting my own business has afforded me so many ways to learn about myself and the world, and I would love to have others have that same opportunity. That’s why I founded the Asian Entrepreneurship Foundation, to share the gift of, and support, entrepreneurship in the Asian community. I also love seeing our own employees grow and develop. The food industry is extremely tough, there’s very little financial reward or glamour for most. So it’s pretty awesome to see our people, many of whom come from tough backgrounds and situations, find a home and career at Chicken & Rice Guys.

    Chicken & Rice Guys is committed to supporting the community as well as our employees. Through the Chicken & Rice Guys Foundation, the charitable arm of Chicken & Rice Guys, we have donated 4,200 meals to the Women’s Lunch Place. We have also developed a partnership with Triangle Inc., a job training facility for people with mental and physical disabilities. To date, Chicken & Rice Guys has integrated multiple people working on a daily basis and providing 160 hours on a monthly basis. Chicken & Rice Guys also sponsors inner city students to start businesses through the BUILD program, and provides free food to blood donors at Mass General Hospital. We donate gift cards and free food to dozens of nonprofits in the Boston Metro Area, including the Jimmy Fund.

    I really like the small town charm Boston has, but still has that big city feel. I wish more young people would see Boston as a place to settle down and start a life. Too many of my friends move to the West Coast because of the weather, or they feel there are not enough social and professional opportunities in Boston. I think young people should realize the value of home and community is about the personal connections you build over time.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    As millennials, we have access to the most information of any previous generation. But with all that information, there will never be a substitute for wisdom and experience. I hired my first professional manager a year ago and the two subsequent professionals I hired since have been invaluable.

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    My name is Noah Hicks. I am a lifelong resident of the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Boston and the founder-owner of the Bowdoin Bike School, Dorchester’s upcycled community bike shop. I grew up in a house full of boys, my parents always encouraged my two brothers and I to be active. We used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood, but I became less interested in cycling as I got older.

    It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I came back to it as an affordable alternative to public transportation or cars. I was always pretty broke so I ended up just experimenting on how to save myself money, eventually buying a run-down ten speed and fixing it up.  I was a man transformed. I started buying used bikes and flipping them, adding my personal touch and reselling them for 3 or 4 times what I had invested. Selling bikes became a huge source of income for me and I wanted to share that success with my community.

    I opened a popup bike shop in a small shed right in my own neighborhood. With a few dollars and my own tools, I started working with my neighbors and teaching them how to repair and upgrade their own bicycles. The goal was to allow people to take charge of their transportation and health in one step, building I also wanted to empower the youth of my community by training them in these skills.

    With that in mind, I found a  car service garage in Codman Square and converted it to a teaching bike shop, rehabbing, customizing, and selling used bicycles. We train and employ young people from Dorchester as shop mechanics. We still offer group bicycle rides and repair clinics for local youth.  Community building through entrepreneurship. Seeing people and families go on biking events together gives me hope and reassurance for the future. Building that type of cycling culture here in my figurative backyard is good for business and good for the neighborhood. 

    I am working with Boston Center for Community Ownership to transform my business into a worker-owned coop so some of the people who have labored hard to build Bowdoin Bike School will get an opportunity to share ownership. I will be bringing The Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen, a community cafe and bike shop, to Upham’s Corner in Dorchester. I am so on fire for this. I want to share that passion with this community and hope that it inspires other communities to do the same.

    Unsung heroes

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    My name is Corina Pinto. I am a Community Health Worker at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. I work with families whose child or children have asthma to better manage their symptoms and keep them out of the hospital. Through this work, I have been exposed to the social determinants of health that keep residents of our city from living a happy and healthy life, such as poor housing conditions, food insecurity, immigration status, violence, etc. Part of my work is to conduct home visits; as of today, I have been in over one hundred of our patients homes throughout the Metro Boston area.

    As someone who grew up in East Boston consistently living under the poverty line, I can relate to the plight of the under served community in East Boston because some of the problems remain the same. It can be very difficult to focus on one's health when there are so many external conditions that push health to the bottom end of priorities. Through my role, I am able to help families put their child's health first by being able to meet them "where they're at" to conduct health education, systems navigation and, what I think is most important, listen to them and try to understand and address their needs outside of their child's asthma; these needs can range from inadequate housing to immigration issues. Every day I learn more and more the importance of addressing the most essential and basic needs alongside addressing a child’s asthma control.

    My greatest success is a compilation of many moments in which a family begins to feel hopeful. Hopeful in the sense that their child’s illness will not control their lives. Many families have faced financial and emotional hardships because their child’s asthma keeps them from going to work and reminds them of the fragility of their child’s life. When I am able to convey to families that they can control their child’s asthma and live a life without fear that their child will be “different” for the rest of their lives or unexpectedly stop breathing, that is the success, that is why I do this work. 

    The biggest challenges I face are the social determinants of health that keep families from being able to fully prioritize their child’s illness. It is difficult to listen to someone educate you on asthma when you are presently worried about the eviction notice your landlord gave you last week. 

    My vision of Boston’s future is one in which all residents working in different fields begin to understand the lives of those most vulnerable and integrate that knowledge into what they do and how they act. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    My advice is for us millennials to truly learn from the mistakes and successes of the generations before us. We have been taught that competition creates innovation and pushes the boundaries of creativeness; while this is true, I believe that an environment of collaboration would be even more successful. Let us learn from one another. Let us flourish in an environment of collaboration and discovery. 

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    My name is Taylor Curley. I am a Special Education teacher in the City of Boston. I currently teach 3- and 4-year-old students with special needs at the Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan. The Mattahunt is a low income, low performing school facing many challenges. The students are often suffering through poverty, hunger, and trauma. My students struggle physically and emotionally as well as academically. They suffer from a range of disabilities, from Autism to Down’s Syndrome and more. 

    My job isn’t your typical 9-5. I’m at the school early and I stay late, but I can’t help thinking and worrying about my students at all hours of the day. It’s never-ending. It’s hard to let them go at the end of the day knowing some of the situations they’re dealing with at home. That’s my biggest challenge, feeling that I can’t do more for them when they walk out that door. That’s why I do whatever I can to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment for my kids. Sometimes that plays out in surprising ways.

    The school had a pool party last year to mark the end of term. A note was sent home to parents asking that they send their child to school with a bathing suit. My kids had worked hard throughout the year to overcome their unique challenges, they all deserved to celebrate. One of my students arrived without a bathing suit that day, so I went to the store on my lunch break to buy him one. To me, that felt like something I had to do as a teacher. Yes, my job is to teach them to read, write, do math and perform other traditional academic skills, but I know that they won’t learn properly when their basic needs are not being met. That means I have to be creative and intuitive and provide extra support when I can. 

    Each day that my students arrive to school, happy to see me and eager to learn, I am reassured. I can see the academic and social/emotional progress they make everyday, so I know that I am doing something right. I hope that Boston's educational system continues to improve and that we learn how to better educate all different types of learners from all different walks of life. In the meantime, when a student steps off the bus with a big smile on his face and says, "Ms. Curley, did you miss me?", I know that I am in the right place, no matter the challenges that lie ahead of me that day. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    I would tell aspiring leaders and changemakers to do something they are passionate about. It shouldn't be about the money or the benefits. It should be about doing something that you enjoy and love every single day.

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    My name is Portsha Franklin. I am an advocate for educational opportunities and access. I am a partner that strives to be the best for my mate. I am a niece, an aunt, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a great granddaughter. I work at West End House Boys and Girls Club on the Success Boston initiative, sponsored by The Boston Foundation. I advise students on MassTransfer, stand in long financial aid lines with students, review resumes, and partner with college administrators on how to best serve our students, just to name a few things.

    I am an educator outside the classroom, and my goal of increasing the graduation rate for Boston Public School students is only secondary to my life's purpose, which is to empower young people towards strength, courage, and integrity. I am motivated by my faith and the understanding of my life's purpose with young people. It has been the acknowledgement of my own privilege and desire to help college students persist towards graduation that keeps me going when times get tough. 

    The critical academic and non-academic issues my students face everyday has often challenged me emotionally. I take on those issues as my own, which has been a positive aspect because it helps me be a stronger, more effective Success Coach for my students. However, it greatly challenges my time and I often work longer hours to accommodate all of my students and give each one 100% of my effort. My biggest challenge has been practicing self-care and understanding that I can't fix everything for my students.

    Gary is by far my greatest success. Gary is one of my second year students at Mass Bay. Gary started college unmotivated, unfocused, taking several remedial courses, and not really knowing why he wanted to go to college in the first place. Gary is now in Statistics, focused on getting his business degree, and is greatly motivated by his younger brother who looks to him as a mentor. As a first-generation American and college student, Gary felt so much pressure to succeed. I helped him channel that anxiety and pressure into motivation and confidence that will give him the fuel to keep going.

    My vision for Boston's future is a vocationally and academically trained work-force filled with leaders that practice integrity and honesty in the workplace. My vision is for a 95% high school graduation rate and an 80% 6-year college graduation rate, which exceeds the goals Boston has set for itself and mirrors the real Boston workforce we hope to build for our future. 

    What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?

    Firstly, I think it's important to note that many of the aspiring leaders and changemakers in Boston are the young people I work with and those like them. They are vibrant, curious, and fed up with "business" and politics as usual. They ask more questions than they have answers. They are unafraid to not be perfect. And guess what...they actually live in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, as well as other communities in and around Boston. My advice for them is to continue challenging the status quo, continue being creative and inquisitive, and continue pushing boundaries. Don't be afraid, stand firm, and work hard to leave our beloved city of Boston better than you found it!

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    We want to empower 20- to 34-year-olds to play a greater role in planning for the City’s future.


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