What We Can Learn From Young Changemakers: Don’t Give Up
Over the past two months, our family has been interviewing young change-makers across the United States who are doing remarkable things to make the world better. Along the way, we’ve been learning to live as a family in a COMPLETELY new context. Most days are truly incredible! We meet awesome change-making kids, who inspire us to recognize challenges in our own community and do something about it. From the Rocky Mountains to Ellis Island, we’re soaking up the history, culture, and geography of America first-hand. We’re getting to know and trust each other in powerful ways that remind us of how interconnected life can be.
However, it’s not without its challenges. We’re a family of five living in a cargo van and 17-foot travel trailer. We’re homeschooling on the road. We’re making a film as a family—our kids interview while we parents film, direct, run sound and lights, and try to be gracious and forgiving to our elementary-aged filmmakers. Every week is constant change—a new state, new foods, beds, people, and weather. We have to reset expectations and embrace unknowns. There’s a massive amount of planning, as we continually adjust and solidify schedules, determine where to park our van and trailer, and coordinate with the kids we’re interviewing, their families, and the communities they serve. Most days, we wake up ready for a new adventure. Some days, we wake up and just long for a familiar routine.
In these first two topsy-turvy months of this yearlong adventure, we’ve been encouraged by a theme that keeps popping up in our interviews with young change-makers: Don’t. Give. Up.
Sometimes You Have to Take a Detour
In New Hampshire, we interviewed Luke Testa, Courtney Pederson, and Kate Aiken, three teens from Manchester who started a program called Project PLAY. Their non-profit provides sports equipment and pays club sport registration fees for children in southern New Hampshire who can’t otherwise afford to play organized sports, but when they first started out, they had a completely different plan altogether. They wanted to run a huge field day for kids all across the area. They had big plans and high hopes, but early on learned that liability issues and insurance concerns would not allow for that kind of event. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but these three young change-makers decided that they could take another path to reach their goal. They wanted to provide opportunities for kids in their area to play sports, so rather than creating their own sporting events, they found a way to empower and resource kids to participate in already established sporting activities, creating a more lasting impact. Never giving up, they simply changed course knowing that there was more than one route to their destination.
Don’t Be Discouraged
In Massachusetts, we interviewed Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Cell Phones for Soldiers, a non-profit that’s been serving the needs of active duty military and veterans for 10 years. Now in their 20s, this brother-sister combo started their project one morning around the kitchen table when they were 12 and 13. They heard a story about a local serviceman who returned home to a $5,000 phone bill because he was trying hard to stay in communication with his family. The Bergquists wanted to help, so they pooled their money (about $14) with that of their friends (about $7) and started getting the word out about this family. Eventually, the bill was paid and Cell Phones for Soldiers was born with a mission to get cell phones with pre-paid minutes into the hands of soldiers. Then, an unexpected phone call came from the US government telling them that if they sent cell phones to the field it could endanger the soldiers’ lives. That was a tough phone call to take and a serious roadblock to their project, but it didn’t stop them from moving forward. Rather than sending phones, Robbie and Brittany started recycling phones and used the money from the recycling to buy pre-paid phone cards for service men and women to call home. All told, they’ve provided more than 250 MILLION minutes of talk time for soldiers and their families over the past 10 years, and they are now providing emergency funds for veterans back at home.
Find Creative Alternatives
Two weeks before we were scheduled to hit the road, we realized that our fundraising was going to be much lower than we had hoped and budgeted for. At first, we panicked a little—or maybe a lot. We had to move out of our house to let the renters move in. We had to find an alternative plan for our transportation when our school bus RV started having mechanical troubles. We didn’t have enough funding to complete the project, and we were supposed to be on the road in just a few days. We could have given up, delayed again, or let the panic take over, but we sat with our producing team and asked, “What’s the goal of this project, and how can we still meet that goal?”
We knew clearly that we wanted to tell the stories of incredible, change-making kids across America to inspire others to go out and make the world better. Within an hour, we had come up with a “Plan B” that chopped 1/3 off our original budget and gave us more flexibility on the road.
Within a few days, we had three families offer to put us up in their homes; we found an affordable travel trailer with all the warranties we could want, and some friends from church offered to trade us vans so that we had a newer tow vehicle with fewer miles and more towing capacity than our own. Though we were still only 60% funded, all the pieces that had fallen apart had come back together in a clearer picture than before. We were ready to hit the road, and we hoped that in seeking out this new Generation of Generosity, we would find all we needed to see the project to completion.
Watching it Unfold
After 11 weeks on the road, we’ve interviewed kids in as many states and have been the recipients of loads and loads of generosity. In these first two months, we’ve had to pay for our camping only 4 nights. Gas prices have dropped significantly. Change-makers are reaching out to us to be a part of the project. Several of the kids we have interviewed or are scheduled to interview have won regional, national, and international service awards. Dozens of families and individuals have provided meals, warm showers, a place to park, gas money, and even tickets to a Broadway show! Our adventure is just beginning, and we are already overwhelmed by the generosity of the people we have met along the way.
There are days when we wake up unsure of where we’re going to stay next week in Maine, find that we are out of propane, notice that Solveig has outgrown all her clothes, realize we need to dump the waste water from our trailer, and just as we start to get overwhelmed—we stop, pause, and we remember.
The government has never called to say that we can’t make a documentary about kids changing the world.
Our producing and legal team has made sure we can interview these kids and their families without fear of unexpected liability issues.
There has always been food on the table, gas in the van, clothes on our backs, and friends new and old everywhere we’ve gone.
The Last Question
The last question we ask of every young change-maker is, “What is one bit of advice you would give to other kids who want to make a difference in the world?” The single most popular answer to that question is:
“Don’t give up. No matter what adversity you face.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
So, we’re taking it to heart and are working daily to live with that hope, determination and humility. Some days it’s slow going, but we press on. There’s so much to digest in these first two months. What will the next 12 hold?
To learn how you can partner with the One Year Road Trip: Generation of Generosity project, visit oneyearroadtrip.com. Whether it’s a young change-maker you want us to know about, a spot to park our van and trailer, or a gift to keep us going, we want to hear from you. Maybe we can even meet you on the road!
From the Editor
At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight real human interactions and human dignity. You can read more stories like this when you pick up your copy of Conscious Magazine. Subscribe today via our Conscious Shop and subscribe to Conscious Updates.