Simone Bernstein is a senior at St. Bonaventure University, New York. A firm believer in the potential, capability and creativity of today’s youth, Simone is the Co-Founder of VolunTEEN Nation, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer resources for teenagers all over America. Since VolunTEEN Nation’s inception in 2012, over 7,800 organizations have been listed and more than 35,000 students have found meaningful volunteer opportunities in their hometowns. Every day, she’s completely inspired by her VolunTEEN Nation team of Bloggers and philanthropists and their creative ideas to get people engaged with making a difference! This week, Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter, interviewed Simone about the important roles girls’ education, youth volunteerism, and nonprofit service play in today’s society.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Simone Bernstein: When my dad was deployed, the outpouring of support my family received from the community ignited my desire to volunteer. It was difficult for me to find volunteer opportunities for youth under age 18 due to safety, security and liability concerns. No youth website existed. I created a regional youth volunteer website database and organized annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fairs and programs to serve needs in the community.
Frustrated with the limited opportunities for youth in my community, I met with non-profit administrators, government officials, educators and religious leaders to find ways to encourage non-profits to engage and include youth under age 18 in service project. My brother and I launched VolunTEEN Nation in March 2012.
Women LEAD: You are the Co-Founder of VolunTEEN Nation, a national nonprofit with volunteer resources for youth. Can you tell us about VolunTEEN Nation?
Simone Bernstein: Young people have an important role to fulfill as advocates for social justice. VolunTEEN Nation helps youth foster and develop the skills we need to improve our world: empathy, change-making, leadership, and teamwork skills. VolunTEEN Nation helps youth easily connect with volunteer opportunities in their community and offers resources and support to advocate for social justice. My frustration with a search for volunteer opportunities in middle school led me to create a national website and large-scale youth-led service events.
Women LEAD: What other service projects have you been involved with? What do you enjoy the most about your volunteering?
Simone Bernstein: When budget cuts forced St. Louis Public Schools to eliminate music programs, we created Making Music Matters, with high school and college students providing free music lessons. We also provide STEM service learning and social entrepreneurship after-school programs for inner-city youth in rural and urban communities. With a group of young people, we also organize free sports clinics for youth on the autism spectrum.
When youth are encouraged to volunteer and problem-solve we help make the world a better place to live and we become part of the solution. Volunteer service heals divisions within communities and allows youth to understand and problem-solve the issues and challenges faced in the world.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you during your work or outside of work?
Simone Bernstein: Anne Sullivan inspires me. As the teacher of Helen Keller, she accomplished a great deal during her life. Her desire was to inspire all of her students to learn. Her motivation, perseverance, and drive inspire me to give back.
Women LEAD: Why is educating girls important to you?
Simone Bernstein: When girls are educated, they have a significant impact on their family and the community. Educating one girl doesn’t just help her individually; it causes a ripple effect by positively changing the future of her community.
Women LEAD: What would you say are the biggest challenges to improving access to education among girls?
Simone Bernstein: Biggest challenges include poor school environments, the cost of education and conflict. Therefore, we must ensure that parents can afford the cost of school and that girls have access to a safe school environment.
Women LEAD: What advice do you have for young women leaders and prospective social entrepreneurs?
Simone Bernstein: Ask for help; don’t do everything on your own. To receive support, ask for assistance from students, non-profit organizations, and corporations.
Social media is a great tool to help you establish professional connections.