26 March 2008

Teen Second Life

The highlight of New York (besides hanging out with Kumar) had to be the Teen Second Life Virtual meet-up we did. Now, some of you, like me, may not have heard of Teen Second Life (or the adult version, aptly named “Second Life”). Even at 23 I feel way to old to really “get” this whole thing and found myself for months saying things I never thought I would ever say. “Why are kids spending so much time cooped up on a computer? They should be outside playing in the sun.” 60 minutes in this near perfect world and while I’m not in love, I do have a newfound appreciation for the concept.

Well then, what’s it all about? Basically, it’s your own “second life.” You create an avatar (that’s TSL lingo for a virtual version of you), eat food, build a house, go shopping, make friends, make enemies, work and yes, even buy stock (the market is doing a lot better than the “real” market, though I’m not sure if that’s saying a whole lot…).

Yes, it’s just as bizarre as you’re thinking it is. Honestly and truly, it’s like living life, only nothing bad happens (it’s impossible to die), you can look like whatever you want to look like and you can even fly, which is – no doubt – something we all want to do! With this freedom to be whoever you want comes a certain universal equality and equity. Yes, things cost money (and it’s real money – you ACTUALLY buy things in this artificial world) but at some level, if you can program and compute, you can play big-time. In fact, one can even make money! You can sell a trade, a good, or a service that is within Teen Second Life.

On that same note, you can help “change” Teen Second Life by launching NGOs, starting advocacy projects, hosting virtual rallies and protests and even launching a virtual venture. Ashoka’s Youth Venture just entered this arena and wow, is it taking off.

I did my same song and dance only it wasn’t me, it was a little virtual version of me sitting in our perfect DIDI Café (Dream It Do It Café) on our ideal Youth Venture Island, which is also home to The DIDI Institute, the DIDI Resource Center and the DIDI Amphitheater. Ten “people” showed up to listen and following the presentation, entered a workshop room to do a virtual simulation (if you’re virtually simulating, is that like, an entirely different dimension altogether). They sat on cushions, raised their hands, brainstormed; all online in this land. If you can’t tell already, I was thoroughly overwhelmed.

I think it’s wonderful what we’re doing – reaching young people where they are, helping them use their unique passion (in this case, computer programming) to solve problems they see in whatever dimension they love. Still, on a broader societal level it leaves me wondering a few things – has this world gotten so bad that we need to completely escape it by going to a virtual one? If that’s the case then should we be attempting to recreate the ideals within that virtual world right here in reality? To me it all stems from consumption of things. We can’t have them in the real world so we go to a virtual one where we can create any reality we want – great clothes, great friends, great places (our amphitheater is SO COOL).

The strange thing is, when I was 13, I don’t remember craving so much that I wanted to escape entirely and recreate myself somewhere that I could have everything. So maybe, rather than up the ante so much that kids are reinventing themselves in another realm, we increases resources and lower the “celebrity standard” in this one. I don’t know, just an idea…

25 March 2008

Post Secret!

So, it appears someone posted a “secret” about me on www.postsecret.com. While it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, A close friend did translate the Polish for me:

"I narrator every (ow: not a word anyone would use today which can mean person) I am we speaking polish otherwise I am clearly a liar for you everything!"
She followed that by saying:
It is poorly conjugated (I even double checked with my mom about the OW word (i have never heard that word and she said "unless they are 80, you would not hear that word"))

After lots of thinking and conferring with friends, I’ve decided that it probably has nothing to do with me and instead, someone found the photo of me online and decided to use it to tell their secret. Still, totally bizarre to see my face there. If you have any other leads by all means, let me know!

In other news, Malena and I were also “blogged” celebrating her birthday in Atlanta. You’ll find that photo on www.bestkisses.com or by clicking here.

20 March 2008

Shirley Massachusetts – Youth Venture Heaven

What happens after one, two and three teams launch from the same school or community? The idea of creating change tips and before you know it, you’ve got TWENTY THREE Youth Venture’s running with dozens more in the pipeline. Kathryn Lions, Youth Venture’s amazing champion, brought the YV opportunity to the kids she worked with as school librarian six years ago and today, she’s working with literally hundreds of kids throughout the town to launch and sustain Ventures. From lit magazines to skate parks, the kids of Shirley might very well be the most socially active town in America. I had the chance to speak to all 300 or so kids of Shirley Middle School and let me say, no social issue was too small (In the fifth grade session one girl raised the need for expanding the use of renewable energy sources and another girl brought up the use of endangered animal furs as clothes. Now you tell me this generation isn’t going to change the world. When I was in fifth grade my primary concerns were four square and lunch trades). I also got to meet some of our amazing Shirley teams.

There was the Rolled Up Paper, a group of fourth graders that act as editor, writer and photographer to produce a monthly newspaper dealing with issues in their elementary school. A recent edition had a young writing blowing the lid off talking during lunch under a pen name, of course.

Then there’s Nick and Molly, who started a Literary Magazine in their middle school so kids would have a place to publish their poems, stories, photographs and music lyrics. It was the first of its kind in Shirley.

I met the Skaters of Shirley, who are raising funds to build a town skate park, which will offer a safe, responsible place for kids to ride without damaging public property. They’re raised over $10,000 for the effort and are currently embroiled in a major PR and lobbying campaign to convince the town government that there needs should be met.

Finally, there’s Caitlin. Basically, she’s ma gurl. At age 10 she started Shirley Arts For All, an organization that raises funds for kids in Shirley who can’t afford the fees to be in plays. They’ve raised thousands of dollars to help fund those kids who would otherwise not be able to participate. Now fourteen, it’s clear in the way she thinks, writes and talks that Caitling understand just how remarkable this global movement is, and what it is capable of.

She spoke eloquently to her peers (which in and of itself is no easy task) about the incredible “power of not brute strength or money, but the power to be inspired and to empower others.” Indeed, that’s what’s at the heart of it – inspiration and a sense of empowerment that makes young people realize just how capable and influential they are. I wish I could fold her up and carry her across the country in my pocket! She’s a natural born leader and I am SO EXCITED to see where the future takes her…Rock on Caitlin!

19 March 2008

Alternative Schools Offer Incredible Outlook

New England seems to be the place to discover some of the coolest alternatives to a traditional high school experience. As some may not know, my first and longstanding passion was always public education and more specifically, how to improve it. Like health care, I think education is a basic human right. Every child, regardless of their socio-economic background, deserves an equal shot at a successful future.

The first stop was at the Match School in downtown Boston. A friend of mine and long-time Youth Venture supporter is in the middle of a one-year Americorps VISTA placement there, where he is a 24-hour tutor for the 220 or so students at the charter school. The school focuses on at-risk youth and is open to any student who is willing to commit to their rigorous program – a schedule that would all but exhaust me. The kids are at school from 7am to 7pm, eating ALL THREE meals on campus. Beyond the amazing teachers there are 45 full-time tutors that work with the kids in small groups to ensure that they understand EVERYTHING they’re learning. The tutors live on the top floor of the building three-to-a-room, often times never going outside from Monday to Friday. Talk about intense! The most incredible thing about Match? 100% OF THEIR GRADUATING SENIORS GO TO COLLEGE EVERY SINGLE YEAR, PERIOD. How’s that for a guarantee? I did the usual song and dance and the kids just loved it. I’m guessing we’ve got the chance to launch 10, 20 Ventures from Match THIS YEAR.

From there it was down south to Providence, Rhode Island, where Youth Venture is working with an equally impressive, yet entirely different alternative high school program. Called the “MET ‘Big Picture’ Schools,” these 50-plus campuses place their focus on educating the “whole person,” with no artifical boundary existing between school and life. That is, the teachers spend time with kids outside school, days are schedule flexibly with internships, service projects and travel opportunities and there are no grades in the tradition sense. Instead, every trimester the students present an exhibition of their work, highlighting what they’ve learned on their terms, by applying math, science and literature to their own passions. Talk about an amazing way to learn! Again, I did the song and dance and the kids responded, primarily because they’ve already build an environment of service and giving back. I also got to meet one of the team leaders of Recycos, a just-launched Youth Venture that focuses on educating the many campuses of MET about why it’s important to recycle. GREAT idea, no question.

Needless to say, I’ve spent the last few days wondering why on earth we’re not focusing more on out-of-the-box ways of educating young people. If it can be done at Match and if it can be done at MET (they’ll soon have 150 campuses across the country) then I belive it can be done in every city, town and rural community of America. Educating our young people has GOT to be priority one and clearly, the current system isn’t working. Lets get back into that innovative state of mind that is uniquely American and come up with some new ways of creating change in our school system. I only hope it’s not too late…

18 March 2008

Video Update - Day 30

It's Kumar time in New England. Woo! After several weeks of cruising with my homeslice Malena, she's back in DC and I'm in New England with Kumar, an awesome VISTA from New Hampshire. We're recapping the past 2 weeks. Enjoy!

The link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pMvyV1oZOw

Also, the latest pics of Montreal and Denver can be found here:

Montreal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyletaylor/sets/72157604107295043/

Denver: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyletaylor/sets/72157604136530798/

New England Updates Soon!

17 March 2008

Big Peeps, Big Conference

I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Social Business and Micro-Economic Opportunities For Youth Conference in Denver, Colorado this past week (wow, is that conference name a mouthful or WHAT?). I was given the job of “demystifying” this crazy group of 1.4 billion people on the planet who are under 25 years old which, since I’ve just spent the last 6 months meeting them around the world, comes fairly easy to me. Still, since most folks at the conference were over 35, I got the usual looks of shock and awe, as I like to call it.

It’s incredible how diverse the reactions are that I get. Everyone under 25 is watching and nodding, as if saying to themselves, “oh yeah, that’s totally me! I get it! That’s it! Everyone 35 and over is watching face scrunched, as if to saying to themselves, “wait, I wasn’t like that when I was 20. How could this be? This kid is crazy!” Then there’s the 25-35 crowd, who spend most of the presentation going, “am I still a youth? When did I become an adult? This stinks. I don’t like this guy.” By the end though, most people are pretty into it, convinced that yes, my generation is absolutely doing their part to change the world.

What made this conference even more incredible was the attendance of two monumental folks in terms of international development – Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and FINCA Founder John Hatch. These are two people who sort-of came up with the idea of Micro-Finance and have – together – raised 133 million families (about ONE BILLION PEOPLE) out of poverty. Hearing them speak then watching how they listened, as if everyone were an expert, was truly inspiring. One of the most difficult parts of being young in this field is that people don’t always take you seriously. “You’re young, what do you know?” IN my opinion, a whole lot, and Dr. Yunus and Dr. Hatch agreed. So what am I saying? If they’re listening, so should you!

I’ll close with some words of wisdom from Dr. Yunus: “Poverty Is An Artificial Creation Of Society.” In that case, lets make it disappear. We can.

Also met several amazing social entrepreneurs (and remembered to take pics of these two)! The first was Ethan who, at six years old, with the help of his parents, decided to wanted to raise money to give teddy bears to orphans in the Denver area. Why? "Because everyone deserves a friend," he told me. He and his parents have built a company similar to build-a-bear, only they use the profits from their parties to donate bears to children in need. Pretty amazing! We had a blast goofing around between sessions!

The second was Joey Baum who, at 16, started his own eco-friendly bag company to reduce the number of plastic bags used in the United States. You know those reusable grocery bags you see in grocery stores? That's him! So, buy yours and help reduce the 7 TRILLION plastic bags Americans use every year!

16 March 2008

Montreal Part 2: Cross-Country Skiing in The Park Is Totally Normal & Other Adventures

When we left off I had just eaten an entire bowl of hummus, sharing only moderate amounts with everyone else. Now refueled, we headed to the University of Montreal to meet with Catherine and Marvyn of Carpool West Montreal. Daily commuters themselves, the two got frustrated with how many people made the 30-minute drive to campus on their own. Certain that there was a better way to save fumes and in turn, THE PLANET, they set out to launch an online carpooling site (similar to Craigslist) where students from their school could find riding buddies to make the commute with, speeding up the journey and saving students money at the same time. Carpool buddies themselves, both claimed there were rarely disagreements about music durng the ride. I was skeptical.

Not wanting to be labeled “single-riders” ourselves, we hitched a ride with them to the bus stop and continued on to the big park in the middle of Montreal that is on a mountain (clearly, I don’t remember the name). There, we met Geraldine and Francois of Optik Oblik, an online alternative media site aimed primarily at sparking debate through words, pictures and video with 16-35 year-olds across Canada. They want to offer an outlet to young people to express their views without being filtered by mainstream media. They’re also totally ridiculous and I love them.

They carried folding chairs and a table into the park so we could create an “alternative” interviewing scene. Francois also brought a sled, which we packed ourselves in to careen down a mountain (don’t tell my shoulder doctor). I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard!

Now soaking wet, snow down my pants, we hopped in a taxi to make our last stop of the day – Marie, Yamie and Onira of Vidanges en Cavales. Their goal is to create an artistic and social bridge between Quebec and countries in Latin America through performing arts. All theater students, they have written, directed and are now performing their own show, built on teaching young people on both sides just how similar they can be in terms of struggles and challenges as well as hopes and dreams. Nicolina and I sat in on a rehearsal and I have to say, they’re good. Real good. I picked up about half of what was going on and I still felt connected.

What’s so incredible about Canada is the absolutely can-do, must-do, want-to-do sprit in young people. No matter what their passion or their cause, they’ve connected with this movement and with each other on an ideals level – all sharing the belief that they have the power to create change in their schools, cities and country as well as in schools, cities and countries around the World. Makes me proud to know my Dad was raised there.

14 March 2008

Montreal Part 1: Living The Dream

I land in Montreal, deal with the onslaught of disaster in the form of missing bags, thousands of Montrealers returning from Florida and horrific road conditions only to be swept away by what is positively the coolest city in North America. It’s like a mini-Europe; cool cafes, amazing architecture, friendly multilingual people, a “staple” food and universal health care. Yes, I said it. Universal Health Care. As someone who just got slapped with a $44,000 bill to have shoulder surgeries that lasted a combined four hours, I must say that showing up, being worked on then going home really wins out, I beg anyone to differ.

I went straight to meet a team at Rapido Café in downtown Montreal (where they forced me to eat a delectable bowl of Poutine – fries covered in gravy and special Quebec cheese). I wasn’t complaining. Ophelie & Cory (unfortunately, my brain was still dead, so I forgot to take their picture) launched In Their Shoes last October with the help of five other interested now-friends, aimed at raising awareness about major global social issues in elementary and high school classrooms. From the Rwandan Genocide to the current situation in Darfur, they encourage students to think critically about what happened then go beyond, challenging the young people to find ways to help create change in their own worlds. There’s no question this project is going somewhere!

Then it was bed, as Nicolina (our AMAZING Ashoka’s Youth Venture Canada Director) had an extremely full day planned – 5 teams in 12 hours located all over the city. We were up at six and out the door by seven, only to sit in “weather traffic” for nearly an hour. It was, of course, absolutely worth it!

We started with ToutiFruits, a soon-to-be Venture team that identified a serious need for healthy food options in their school’s cafeteria. To meet this need, they decided to launch their own co-op smoothie company, using all natural (and organic when possible) ingredients. Every Tuesday they use their break to whip up four different kinds of delectable mixes (which they came up with themselves) and sell them for a reasonable $1.50 during nutrition. The skills they’re learning go far beyond healthy eating – from managing a budget to tracking sales, from marketing and advertising to quality control, the twelve students involved are gaining valuable life lessons that will no-doubt benefit them in the future.

From there it was a short walk down a snow-scaped avenue to meet Amelie and Mark of www.StayNomad.com (launching soon). Actually, Amelie was in person but Mark was dialed in from Germany through skype. This was my first “e-interview” and it went surprisingly well. No sounds delays, no frozen screens and no irritating “illegal operations” that are oh-so-common while video-chatting across oceans! www.StayNomad.com was an idea that came to Amelie and Mark while they were on a 5-month biking trip across Europe. They realized that to fully appreciate a different culture, it was crucial to meet people who were locals – talk with them, stay with them, cook with them. If we as a society were going to truly “get” other cultures, we had to be invested in not just the country, but individuals who represented that country. With an anticipated site launch date of early April, Amelie and Mark will be offering committed travels the opportunity to set up profiles and connect with people all over the world. Through friend’s referrals, online chats and opportunities to set up meetings, users will be able to plan their next big adventure not from travel books, but from actual residents, breaking down cultural barriers while building a global network of “nomads.” Pretty cool stuff.

After we said farewell to Mark in Germany, Amelie offered to whip up a delicious Lebanese lunch, which meant hummus. I love hummus more than life itself, so I was extremely content. Part 2 of my sojourn to Montreal is coming soon…

12 March 2008

The Flight Of Doom

Truth be told, my time in Montreal was cut short by two days because of the weather. I was supposed to arrive Sunday in the morning and didn't make it until Monday, LATE. This was due in large part to the fact that United Airlines is apparently unsure of how to fly plans or manage a business. I was booked out of Raleigh, North Carolina, had to change due to technical difficulties and ended up with a flight out of Dulles in DC on Sunday morning. That flight was cancelled because of weather (the only flight to Montreal cancelled that day, obviously, and it didn't post as cancelled until I got to the airport. I checked right before leaving for the airport and it was good to go). So the woman at the counter says she can't help me (obviously) and gives me a phone number to call.

Susan answers after I've been on hold for 30 minutes. I explain the situation and let her know that I’m continuing on from Montreal to Denver on Wednesday morning. She tells me the next available flight from DC to Montreal is Wednesday at noon, asking, “how does that sound?” Seriously Susan? I get a bit huffy and site the fact that I have flown 40 flights with them in the past 10 months. She puts me on hold and says she can fly me DC-NYC-Ottawa-Montreal Monday at noon. I take this, even though it turns my 2-hour journey into an 8-hour sojourn. She gives me seat assignments and confirmation numbers for all 3 flights. I go home for 24 hours.

Then I show up Monday and it turns out the 2nd and 3rd flights aren't on United but with Air Canada, and they rejected the request. Obviously. True to form, United told me none of this so I'm at the airport with a ticket to NYC. “That’s a start,” Patty says to me from behind the counter, finishing with a little giggle. I refrain, but this only lasts for about 10 minutes before I go ballistic, this time at the desk. The woman says it is "not her fault,” waving her hands and saying “don’t look at me.” I’m sorry Patty, where might I look for a solution? Maybe in Chicago or Detroit? She makes some calls and gets me on standby at 12:20, which leaves in TWENTY MINUTES. I run through the airport, get double-checked at security, ride the giant SUV people mover thing to my terminal, run some more and get there just in time to find out they are not taking any standbys. Furthermore, there are 90 people on the standby list. Thankfully, my million miles gets me the 3rd spot on the list. So I go back to the Customer Service Desk to find, after waiting for 10 minutes, that I have to go the INTERNATIONAL customer service desk, which is in a different terminal. Obviously

I do. They tell me all they can do is put me on standby for the 4:40pm flight, so I spend all day in the terminal and stand right next to the gate as they board the plane (I had a delicious Wendy’s burger for lunch). Then they start calling standbys and I get THE LAST SEAT ON THE PLANE. Woo!

So I arrive in Montreal, clear immigration control with the literally 1,000 Montrealers who are coming back from Florida and are FRIED from the sunshine then stand at the baggage carousel for an hour waiting for my luggage, which never comes. I do the whole "look behind the flaps" thing and confirm that no, it is indeed not here. So I go to the baggage claims desk. There is no one there. Obviously. I ask someone at the next desk over if she can page someone for me. “Oh sure,” she says, “but they never come.” Obviously. I repeat this request every 10 minutes for the next 2 hours, until someone finally arrives and starts yelling at the 20 of us there because we “should have come right after we got off the flight.” Um, did she mean when I was standing in the hour-long line clearing customs or when I was watching the same six bags go around the carousel for 45 minutes? How would we have known if our luggage hadn't come right after we got off the plane?

So I fill out the form and exit the airport, only to wait in a 30-minute line to get a taxi, then take the 1-hour ride into the city because the weather is so bad. I get up Tuesday and call the hotline for bags. "Fred" answers. I give him my report number and he says there is no claim and that I "did not fly to Montreal on March 11th. Um Fred, I beg to differ, as I am standing IN Montreal. 20 minutes later he has refiled my request and discovers that my bags are still in DC. I'm going on to Denver Wednesday morning, so I ask him to just send them straight there. "I can do that," he tells me, going on to explain my bags must follow my exact path, meaning they'll have to go to Montreal then to Denver, clearing customs in Canada then again in the United States. And what does United offer me for my trouble? $25 in flight credits. OH MY GOD.

Then I arrive in Denver and head straight to the baggage delay zone, once again explaining my situation. The woman pulls up my file by pressing the F8 key about 12 times, tapping random keys, fiddling with the arrows, spinning in her chair and clapping her hands (seriously, why do they have to press so many buttons at the airport to do anything on the computer?). “It’s still in DC,” she tells me. “Why don’t we just send it straight to Boston (where I will be NEXT MONDAY), to be sure?” To be sure of what? That it will take you – the largest airline on planet earth – 8 days to get a duffle bag from DC to Boston, a 10-hour drive. Laughable. I ask her about additional compensation. “Well,” she starts. “You can save your receipts and mail them in this envelope. Please allow 12 to 15 months for requests to be processed.” To be honest, this amount of time doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Why wouldn’t it take over a year to mail a check within the Continental United States?

Question: When did we the public allow companies to start treating us like garbage? I say, no more!

09 March 2008


Exciting news! The New York Times quoted me talking about my generation as the opening statement to their Sunday article "The Age of Giving." The full text:

‘‘Our generation is replacing signs and protests with individual actions,’’ says Kyle Taylor, 23, an advocate for the social-entrepreneur movement who started his own mentoring organization. ‘‘This is our civil rights movement and what will define our generation.’’

The online version of the article is presented as a slideshow of changemakers and can be viewed by clicking here or here:


The print version is completely different, if you have a chance to pick it up! Page 33 of the New York Times Magazine.

I'm still in DC after weather led to a cancelled flight to Montreal. Heading there tomorrow. DC - NYC - Ottawa - Montreal. The travel gods hate me!



08 March 2008

Big Change In HOT-lanta

Our cross-country trek was definitely starting to wear us down as we approached Atlanta. We were about to pass the 5,000-mile mark, which meant we had spent 100 hours (4 WHOLE DAYS, 8 Daylight days) on the road. Our booties ached, our ears burned from listening to the same 500 songs on repeat and our inability to find fresh fruit was making us edgy (potassium is important!). Needless to say, spirits were not high and this sign seemed to speak volumes: “NO.” No to what we didn’t know, but it still spoke to us.

That is, until we met Jordan of Children’s Bilingual Theater. Thankfully, she had an event planned for the day we were in town, and what an event it was. At 10 years old Jordan saw a serious need in her community for bilingual fluency support. The daughter of a Spanish-speaking mother and English-speaking father, Jordan was raised in a bilingual home. When her family moved to Marietta, Georgia – a community with a large immigrant population – Jordan noticed just how divided the two populations were, and she wanted to bridge that gap.

Since she began four years ago, Jordan has produced four bilingual plays that have involved hundreds of young people. In addition to these larger productions, she hosts several smaller events in schools and pre-schools that focus on bilingual literacy – events like Dr. Seuss day (launched to celebrate the birth of Dr. Seuss). She was in full-costume, sitting a-top a giant “Cat in the Hat” hat reading “Oh The Things You Can Think” to several classes of three to seven year-olds. The kids loved her, and it was evident she cared a great deal about them also. What’s next? Growing the organization throughout the Atlanta region!

We left Children’s Bilingual Theater to spend the evening with Laura, founder of Wild and Water. Wild and Water aims to water-safe economically disadvantaged youth in the Atlanta area by partnering with club swim teams, swimsuit and goggle makers and community organizations that all donate their time, facilities and goods to the cause.

In just over one year Laura has been able to water-safe more than 200 economically disadvantaged youth and collected $34,000 in in-kind donations! We joined in on a swim cap decorating party, which brought me right back to my 13 years as a competitive swimmer, though I did look a little bit ridiculous wearing my cap with my “street clothes…”

All-in-all, a really great day. There has been a slight schedule change so I’ll be returning to DC with Malena tonight before heading on to Montreal Sunday. Taking a few days break to catch up on life, but be back soon for the second half of this great adventure!

P.S. Happy 25th Birthday To Malena! YEAH!!!

05 March 2008

Louisiana – Where Two Worlds Collide

Upon our arrival to New Orleans Malena and I went directly into the famed French Quarter. Most hotels were located there, so it seemed the logical choice for us. As I’m sure happens to most people, we were swept away by the personality, charm and energy of the historic downtown region. From three-story rot-iron balconies ornately decorated with fleur-de-lis’ to sipping café au lait and eating beignets at Café du Monde while listening to street-side jazz, it felt like we had been transported back in time, our worries drifting away.

On our second day, however, we took a short 5-mile drive east over the draw bridge and into the ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans that was hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina nearly two and a half years ago. What we found could not have been more shocking. House after house was marked with a large “X,” indicating that it remained condemned, unsafe and possibly toxic. FEMA trailers were scattered everywhere, some residing in what appeared to be driveways that once led to these condemned homes. Lot after lot sat completely void of actual homes, replaced instead by piles of trash, broken glass and additional remnants of what loosely resembled a home. There were no sidewalks. No streetlamps. No businesses. No fences. No yards. Some homes had been rebuilt, their high-peeked roofs creating a sort-of alternate reality skyline in a sea of chaos.

I couldn’t help but wonder how – nearly three years later – this community could still look like it had just been hit by catastrophe. Where was the failure? Was it the government? Was it a lack of commitment from locals? Did people simply not want to rebuild, or were resources being held up somewhere? While I am still searching for answers there is one person that gives me hope.

Her name is Madeline Peters. At 20 years old she has already claimed her stake in this global movement, committed to not only creating her own social change, but inspiring and encouraging others to do the same. A Pensacola, Florida native, Madeline chose to attend LSU because she felt that more than anywhere else, she could have a significant positive impact on the community. She and I met at a conference in New Hampshire and she became immediately interested in what Youth Venture does.

When I mentioned we were coming through Louisiana, she jumped at the opportunity to help us connect with youth in the area and did an incredible job, forming a committee to set up meetings at high schools, community centers and Universities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, allowing us to meet with tons of youth from across the socio-economic spectrum.

We’re talking about a region of the country that is in so much need, and what better way to change the future there than engage those people who are going to be a central part of it? Youth like Madeline are tomorrow, but they’re already taking action today. With so much heartache and suffering, that, more than anything, should give us hope, especially in light of tragedies like Katrina. It seems clear that the government can use as much help as they can get.

03 March 2008

NEW VIDEO & PICS - North Country Recap

Here it is, the moving pictures from our time in North Country. Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and some incredible Venture teams in Minnesota. Enjoy!

Road Trip America - North Country Recap

Add to My Profile | More Videos

The link, in case it doesn't embed: http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=29395738

Here are the pictures from Minnesota as well:


Rock Star Road Mate

We’ve now moved into a new month and it must be said, Malena is a road-trip rock star. We just finished our 100th hour in the car (that’s just over FOUR DAYS) and she has been behind the wheel every single one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m offered, but she gets in this “zone” and it’s a sight to be seen. I think the girl would just keep driving if I didn’t point out cool things like heads carved into mountains and the World’s largest prairie dog.

We definitely make a great pair. No fights to date and only one incident where we both felt the need to “talk about our feelings.” The humor flows like whoa, though I’d doubt anyone else would think our jokes are funny, probably because they have to do with sitting in a car for 100 hours. Pretty funny, right? Right?

It’s one of those amazing experiences – like anything, I would guess – where you don’t want it to end but it’s so exhausting you can’t wait for it to be over at the same time, so you can sleep for a week. Right now we’re just doing our best to take it one day at a time and enjoy the process, something I’ve never been all that good at doing. Always learning. Always learning.