Issaquah teen proves young people can create BIG change

"From now on, it's not a question of if I can make a difference, it's how." That's the message 13-year-old Geneva Schlepp walked away with from We Day.

“From now on, it’s not a question of if I can make a difference, it’s how.”

That’s the message 13-year-old Geneva Schlepp walked away with from We Day.

Started by brothers Craig and Mark Kielburger, We Day is a party of sorts – consisting of live music, celebrity appearances and lots of opportunities to scream and dance. But it’s also got a mission: to encourage young people to take action through service projects. The event has been happening in Canada for the past six years.

On Wednesday, March 27, approximately 15,000 students gathered at Key Arena in Seattle to celebrate the first We Day in the United States; Geneva and a handful of her classmates from Pine Lake Middle School were among them.

The Kielburgers’ dedication to service started in 1995, when, at age 12, Craig Kielburger heard a story about a Pakastani boy who was sold in to slavery, and was later killed, for speaking out. Inspired to make changes in how people were being treated around the world, Craig rallied a group of friends to raise money for children facing similar obstacles. That project evolved in to Free the Children – an international charity and educational program that seeks to empower young people. And from that, came We Day.

We Day isn’t something you can buy your way in to. Rather, students earn their ticket by committing to positively change the world around them – at both the local and global levels. Examples? Food drives, anti-bullying campaigns, fundraisers to build schools and wells.

Geneva’s journey to We day started earlier this school year, when Free The Children came to Pine Lake and told the students about the struggles of the Maasai people of Tanzania. Inspired by the presentation’s message – that young people have the power to make change and fight injustices around the world – Geneva decided to head her own cause: raising money to fund a school in Rajasthan, India.

Along with a small group of friends and family – who collected donations from the Issaquah community through bake sales, movie nights and door to door visits – Geneva raised nearly $9,000 in 3 months.

“I’m so proud of the whole team,” said Geneva’s mother, Susan Schlepp, who helped her daughter and her friends throughout the fundraising process. “They did something truly remarkable.”

We Day Seattle, which came to fruition with help from co-organizer (and Seattle Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll, served to commemorate this remarkable achievement – and to encourage teens like Geneva to continue to change the world.

The night before We Day, Geneva spoke at the Evening of Champions, a pre-We Day event that gave youth leaders the opportunity to speak one on one with the Kielburgers and a variety of celebrities that would take the stage.

“I feel so blessed to have had this experience, and although it wasn’t easy, the outcome was amazing,” Geneva told those in attendance.

The main event, which took place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. the following day, featured appearances by Jennifer Hudson, Martin Sheen, Mia Farrow, Nelly Furtado and hip-hop act Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Also in attendance we’re YouTube sensation Kid President and Seahawks players Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Russell Okung and John Moffitt.

More than the pomp and circumstance of the celebration, though, was the feeling of inspiration and action it evoked.Upon leaving the event, Geneva and her friends were already busy talking about the next project they want to take on.

Next on the agenda? Raising enough money to fund a well – or two – in Africa.