By Luke Armour • Jan 5, 2017
In April 2012, as a student and lacrosse player at Princeton University, I was asked to give a tour of campus to a group of middle school student-athletes from Harlem. The day left a lasting impression on me.
The students were on a field trip with the Harlem Lacrosse Organization, whose vision and mission is (from the website) “to inspire children to dream about tomorrow while working hard on the field and in the classroom today,” as well as “to empower the children who are most at risk for academic decline and dropout, to rise above their challenges and reach their full potential.”
I had given a few tours as a student, but the excitement and energy levels made this group distinctly inspiring and memorable.
As we walked through campus, the students asked questions, ranging from “what do you do,” to “how did you prepare for college,” to, “what was the food like?”
I shared with the group a bit about my experience, my path, and tried to impart simple ideas about what they might do to set themselves up to achieve their educational and athletic goals.
As we chatted, I thought back to my own middle school years, and it struck me that while I had grown up only twenty or so miles from where these kids lived, my life was one of opportunistic circumstance; one filled with a built-in system of support, structure, coaching and mentorship, from an early age on.
Coming from a stable, two-parent home in an affluent metropolitan suburb, the advantages I had compared to the Harlem group were enormous. From our schools, to our teams and youth groups, we had multiple support systems, role models and mentors around us frequently.
Playing a mental game of “switched at birth,” I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been as focused, enthusiastic and positive as these kids, who clearly were growing up with a lot less.
This is what makes programs like Harlem Lacrosse so important and necessary. We (or I, at least, speaking for myself), who are so fortunate, have the obligation to step up our efforts, work directly with local community youth initiatives, providing support, mentoring and teaching the tools that will help kids, specifically those who are disadvantaged by economic conditions, to compete and thrive in the world.
There are numerous people and groups working already, such as Harlem Lacrosse, and they have made real differences in people’s lives.
DICKS Sporting Goods Presents: Sports Matter — Harlem Lacrosse
As young people in the VC / startup community, we are in a great position to mentor younger people, both by introducing entrepreneurial thinking and startup basics, as well as more general tips that will help support kids through their day to day lives as well.
We can share and introduce technical skills that will be essential in the coming decades, such as coding and design, networking and PowerPoint, and we can teach useful life skills, such as study habits, commitment to healthy life choices, general tips, etc…
One of the great aspects of being involved in the startup world is the opportunity to meet and learn from so many brilliant people, many of whom are young, and doing things that are larger than life, and many of them are equally committed to impacting their community.
Neeraj Kapoor is one of the people who is making a real difference.
I recently connected with Neeraj who, among many other things, is the founder of Gratefulness. He wrote to me in an intro email:
I built Gratefulness.io for my little cousin who has been struggling with depression and anxiety for some time. I thought he could benefit from thinking about some things he’s grateful for. He sucked at keeping a journal so I put this little site together that texts him every day asking him what he’s grateful for. He responds directly to the text and we store his responses in our database.
The simple SMS-based app gained significant traction unexpectedly and was featured on Product Hunt.
What’s amazing about Neeraj’s story is that he’s not only serving as a direct mentor, providing support to his younger cousin, but he actually built a piece of technology that has scaled his impact to hundreds or thousands of others.
Neeraj is also the founder of an incredible organization called Learntobe, a 501c.3 non-profit that brings free, 1-on-1, online tutoring to underserved communities around the nation. I recently signed up as a tutor and have donated to his platform.
Neeraj is a great role model for the rest of us.
My friend Isaac Serwanga is another young person really walking the walk when it comes to impact.
Isaac was a three-sport varsity athlete at Princeton, and after graduating in 2013 without a job, he found himself applying principles he had learned from reading a book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.
According to Isaac, the book saved him by changing his perspective on networking, and he was inspired to create something that he could use to impart similar insights that would be helpful to others.
Isaac recently published his first book: How to Network in College: A Practical Guide to Student Success in the Networking Age, which is a simple, how-to guide for high school students (but applicable to everyone), on how to maximize personal, academic, and career goals.
Over the next six months (and likely beyond), Isaac will be visiting high schools around the country, interacting with students and sharing his experiences about networking. These skills will not only serve to help kids compete in college and professional life, but will help them immediately as well.
Isaac Serwanga presenting at Princeton University in April 2016
Isaac and Neeraj are just two examples of people proactively bringing knowledge and support to younger people in need, and they are truly making a difference.
Not only are they teaching practical skills, but they’re also sharing their own stories and personal lessons that serve to inspire as well. Equally impactful, Harlem Lacrosse is doing things in their community (and now in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles as well), to help mentor, teach and inspire young people.
In an effort to contribute, we at Chaac Ventures are excited to be organizing local efforts in the greater Los Angeles area that will look to introduce concepts of technology, startups and entrepreneurship, and also mentor and support students as well.
If you’re interested in joining our efforts, or speaking about opportunities and to bring useful skills and practices to kids please reach out to me via email or through our website www.chaacventures.com.
We would love to connect with and collaborate with anyone who wants to be involved in our efforts, and most importantly, join us in getting out and interacting with these great kids.