Youth Ambassadors KC Host Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers Fame

Jared and his twin brother, Josiah, have been shuffled from home to home in the foster system. They’ve even been homeless a number of times. But they won’t let that hold them back.

I had the privilege of meeting Jared, Josiah and their role model, Erin Gruwell at a Youth Ambassador event in Kansas City. Gruwell is best known as a teacher, an education activist, and the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She came to share her extraordinary story, one that Paramount Pictures released as a full-length feature film in 2007. Jared and Josiah, both members of Youth Ambassadors KC were there to meet Erin and greet the arriving guests.

After being introduced by Peter Long, CEO of MCH Strategic Data, Gruwell took the stage and engaged the audience of local community and business leaders with the tales of her first teaching assignment: 150 inner-city high school students labeled “unteachable” and written off by the educational system at a tough, racially divided school in California. Her philosophy for reaching them was simple: she fostered a classroom environment that valued and promoted diversity, encouraged students to re-think preconceived notions about themselves, reconsider daily decisions and ultimately, re-chart their futures. She concluded her story with a simple appeal to the members of her audience: Be a catalyst of change. Open your minds and hearts with time, talent or treasure for our very own local, underserved, at-risk youth.

Youth Ambassadors KC, a Kansas City based organization, provides guidance to underserved youth like those Gruwell inspired to change the course of their lives. Jared and Josiah are Ambassadors in the KC organization that teaches life skills in areas such as anger management, crisis resolution, recognition of impediments to success, fiscal responsibility, goal setting, healthy relationships, leadership skills and informed choices. They also provide year round academic support, teach soft job skills, and help each Ambassador set a clear objective for high school graduation and a post high school academic or career plan.

That evening, as I waited in line to enter the auditorium, I was moved by how these youth interacted with the adults. The confidence and pride shining in them touched my heart as I realized I was seeing first-hand lives changed by this organization; hope and guidance given to those who need it most. In that moment I knew Jared and Josiah were going to break the cycle of poverty and despair and become leaders and activists for change themselves. Huge thanks to the volunteers who work tirelessly to empower underserved teens not only in Kansas City but across the country.

If you’d like to get involved or learn more, check out the websites for Youth Ambassadors or Freedom Writers Foundation.