This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Entering a new school in an unfamiliar community, feeling alone and isolated, then 13-year-old Shane Feldman took the advice of a mentor to get involved with school clubs and service organizations. He enjoyed it so much, he organized an event across seven high schools to engage other kids who felt as isolated as he had.
That event, where he hoped to get 50 students to participate, ultimately brought together 400. The following year, the event attracted over 1,000 students from 30 schools.
Those humble, but promising beginnings to Count Me In have now reached over 10 million people around the world. Feldman, now 23, describes it as the “largest youth-led organization in the world.”
Today, the nonprofit organization has 37 employees in four countries, funded by a combination of corporate sponsorships, individual donations and ticket revenue.
Drew Dudley, founder and chief catalyst for Day One Leadership, was recruited by Feldman to help with Count Me In’s first global broadcast. The variety show had viewership in 104 countries and was planned entirely by students.
Dudley not only agreed to participate but was so impressed, he has since provided Count Me In with financial support. He says:
I think the education system teaches us that the best way to look impressive and have impact is to find a way to make people say, ‘Oh wow! I didn’t know that!’ In reality, one of the most powerful gifts you can give another person is the ability to say, ‘Oh my God, I thought I was the only one’–the only one who felt something, feared something, struggled with something. Count Me In shows young people the value of engagement in their communities, but I think more importantly it lets them know they are not alone when they feel lonely, or overwhelmed, or like they simply don’t matter. It not only demonstrates to them that they are not alone, it shows them the impact they can have as a collective. Perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates to them how to begin having that impact.
The organization has helped organize service projects involving over 100 million volunteer hours valued at over $2.3 billion, according to Feldman.
E.J. Carrion, founder and CEO of Student Success Agency was so impressed after hearing Feldman speak at a conference that he agreed to join the board. He explains how Count Me In works.
Count Me In helps communities inspire their teenagers to volunteer and get involved. How they do this is by helping teenagers support existing service projects or start new ones that they care about. What I love about the organization is that they also teach students how to partner and work with existing organizations, run by adults, to make a bigger impact. To me, that skill of working together and asking for help is such a powerful skill for teenagers to learn. They also teach students to develop themselves not just their community.
Feldman sees the impact the organization has had on his personal development. At the outset, he had modest ambitions. He says, “I definitely wasn’t expecting to start something this large.” At first, he admits, Count Me In was just “another thing to distract me from schoolwork and academics.”
But, even then, he recognized that the effort made him feel good. Reflecting on all that Count Me In has done and become, he says, “We do it because it feels good because we’re spending our time doing something meaningful and fulfilling and that’s what I tapped into. I was just lucky enough to tap into it as a 13-year-old I was lucky enough to have mentors in my life who guided me who gave me the support that I needed.”
Demonstrating self-awareness more often associated with people three or four times his age, Feldman says the most important lesson he’s learned is that “you can’t do anything on your own.”
“You can’t hope to accomplish or build anything. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to build any kind of company or brand. I had to surround myself with a team that understood and supported my vision and I had to allow them to take as much ownership of my idea as I was,” he adds.
Asked about his “superpower,” Feldman says, “I believe my superpower is listening.” He then added, “Looking at the growth of Count me in and everything that I’ve been able to accomplish and work towards in my life thus far, the common thread is really listening.”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!