Fifteen thousand young people from across Washington are expected to enthusiastically descend on Seattle's Key Area on Wednesday, March 27 for an event that features the man responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall, a historic event that occurred before they were born.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is the only known speaker announced so far for the first ever U.S. We Day, a youth-led empowerment event designed to inspire kids to change the world. We Day is a single event that is part of a movement sprung from the international charity and educational partner Free the Children.
The mystery is intentional to keep interests piqued. Organizers, in past events in Canada where We Day events have taken place for the last six years, have featured speakers including past president of Doctors Without Borders James Orbinski, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, basketball hall-of-fame legend Magic Johnson and performing artists like Jennifer Hudson, Nelly Furtado and platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated, American pop/rock band One Republic.
The Seattle event has some big-time sponsors including Microsoft as well as a partnership with the Seattle Seahawks, head coach Pete Carroll, and his organization A Better Seattle.
“Free The Children was founded by my classmates and me in 1995 when I was 12 years old,” said Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children. “We’ve grown from a small group of passionate kids who launched fundraisers and petitions to promote child rights to an educational partner providing service learning and civic engagement opportunities to more than 3,500 schools and a network of almost two million young active global citizens."
Moving on from Rachel's Challenge
Enumclaw Schools Superintendent Mike Nelson reported during the November meeting of the Enumclaw School Board that local educators would be working toward involving students in the project.
We Day is free for students and teachers to attend thanks in part to the generous lead support of Microsoft and other individuals and foundations. In return, students must earn their way in to the event through service by taking one local and one global action to better the world through a year-long program called We Act. This year-long service learning program offers Washington schools speaking tours, educational resources, domestic service campaigns, international volunteer opportunities and support to help youth and teachers take action on any issue or cause.
Schools can register to take part in We Act at anytime, Kielburger told Patch. The schools are then issued tickets for the We Day event, and the teachers become the gatekeepers to ensure students are meeting the requirements of one local and one global action.
The actions can be fundraising, raising awareness, community service or something else. Kielburger said We Act has several prepackaged campaign ideas to help kids get started.
The Greatest Reward
The ideal candidate to attend We Day, said Kielburger, is a student that is seen as having leadership potential, but who might not be channeling it in a product way.
"We know that not every young person finds their spark easily," he said. "Sometimes they need a bit of help or mentorship. The student council president gets in but so does the young person who has never been involved in something before."
Oftentimes, said Kielburger, it's the kids who seem the most at-risk themselves who find the greatest reward in We Act. "When they're involved in helping others, they're more likely to stay in school and make better life choices," he said. "The greatest benefit is for the young person themselves."
We Act is able to track the alumni who have gone through the program - stretching back 17 years in Canada. Of the graduates, 80 percent continue to volunteer every year, 83 percent continue to give to charity, and 79 percent voted in the last federal election if they were over 18, Kielburger said. "We want to hook you now," he said. "Starting doing this now and you'll stick with it. It'll become who you are."
Kielburger was recently featured in a 60 Minutes interview in which an overseas trip to Africa served as the backdrop to the work of We Act. (View the clip.) But just as important are the local projects undertaken by students. He highlighted the work of a student from Federal Way High School by the name of Caleb who acted through one of We Act's campaigns called We Scare Hunger this past Halloween.
Caleb gathered friends together, printed flyers to give residents a heads up a few days in advance, and rallied everyone on Facebook to dress up on Halloween but instead of asking for candy, they collected food for their local food banks. By the end of the night, Caleb's group had collected five tons of food. They researched who to give the food to, and it was the largest donation the food bank had ever received.
"Here's an example of one student who chose to earn his way in to We Day," Kielburger said. "Not only did he earn his way in, he organized 300 other people to earn their way in as well."
Coach Carroll said of his partnership with We Day, “Making an impact doesn’t have to wait — they can make a huge difference right now and play a big part in building safe and healthy communities for years and generations to come.”
Local to Global
Though Seattle is the first U.S. city to host a We Day, schools in Washington have already taken part in past events by heading across the border to Vancouver, B.C., Kielburger said.
The advocacy and work of local leaders including Coach Carroll was a good reason organizers picked the Pacific Northwest as their starting point. Additionally, in Seattle and in Washington state, "the leadership swings above its weight in influencing the dialogue on national education," Kielburger said.
We Day and We Act bring service learning to schools and teach a "systematic service learning program," he said. "This is something we want to grow across America. We want to make sure every single young person has something they care about."
Beyond the school, We Day currently has 2.3 million followers on Facebook and and is one of the largest causes on Facebook for charities. "It really is a global community now that tunes in and watchese these We Day celebrations, and are a part of the celebrations," said Kielburger. "There are a lot of charities out there that do a lot of great work. We are unique in that we engage children and young people."
Social media has been a huge tool in helping to cultivate the interconnectivity of young people around the world. "We will team up with a sister village in a developing country," he said. "Students have the chance to learn about that community and even travel and visit that community. Over 2,000 students a year go overseas with us."
Feed the Children has received the World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child (also known as the Children's Nobel Prize), the Human Rights Award from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, and has formed successful partnerships with leading school boards and Oprah's Angel Network. For more information, visit www.freethechildren.com.
Want to Go to We Day?
Billed as 1/3 icons, 1/3 hometown heroes and 1/3 music and celebration, We Day is shaping up to be a dynamic event though Kielburger said organizers won't reveal other speakers and performers until the date gets closer.
Students and teachers can learn more about We Day and We Act and how they can get involved by visiting www.weday.com/seattle. Washington schools have already started to make a difference. Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Wash., raised more than $10,000 in the past year to support Free The Children’s international development communities in Kenya, building a new school from the ground up.
You can also access to behind-the-scenes We Day moments (videos and photos) at weday.com/press. Connect with the We Day movement today: #weday, @freethechildren @craigkielburger, or www.facebook.com/weday.
"To those young people who think they can't change the world, that's why we have We Day," said Kielburger. "It's 15,000 students from across Washington who are there because they made a difference."