President Obama and Young Americans

For the Win Special Edition: Making Your Mark

For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. Jacob Bernstein, who gives us an update in this special edition, was one of the first For the Win guest bloggers. Submit your story to appear in the For the Win guest blog series.

Jacob Bernstein, a 17-year-old from St. Louis, Mo., is a member of the Youth Advisory Council at generationOn, the youth activation division of Points of Light Institute. Jacob is also an active leader of his school’s student government and a member of the Junior Advisory Board of the Danforth Science Center. Jacob co-founded St. Louis Volunteen, a website that provides youth with volunteer resources. The success of the website led him to create and organize the St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair, which is in its third year.

Jacob Bernstein Watches President Obama Give His Back-to-School Speech

Jacob Bernstein Watches President Obama Give His Back-to-School Speech, October, 2011. (Photo from Points of Light Institute)

Sitting in my high school cafeteria last week, it was a surreal experience to watch President Obama’s annual Back-to-School speechand hear him mention me by name. I was truly honored and humbled to be highlighted as a student making a difference in my community along with two other students who have made their mark and are committed to making a difference in the world around them.

In his speech, President Obama pointed out that I have worked with my sister to launch a website devoted to community service for young people. Through this site, StLouisVolunteen.com, I help host volunteer fairs, maintain an online database of volunteer opportunities, and assist families with finding great volunteer projects that range from clearing nature trails to serving at local hospitals. I remember when I first wanted to get started volunteering. Back then, there were very few organizations that were willing to take on youth volunteers and very few resources to help guide me. I felt frustration and disappointment. That’s what led me to develop St. Louis Volunteen along with my sister. Now, the website helps connect young people with tons of volunteer opportunities.

Today, instead of feeling frustration, I feel satisfaction in finding ways to improve the website, grow the volunteer fair, and utilize social networking as an effective tool to post volunteer opportunities. Last October, I created theSt. Louis Volunteen Junior Board, a group of 15 students from around St. Louis who meet to discuss the site and events. I coordinate meetings and help delegate roles to other teenagers. What makes StLouisVolunteen unique is that it is run by youth and for youth. Recently we received nonprofit status and I am now working on expanding our reach nationally to service the entire country.

Already, the Back-To-School speech has made quite an impact on me and my peers. After hearing the President’s call to “make your mark,” students in my community have signed up for upcoming volunteer events in record numbers. In fact, with all these recent volunteer commitments, I hope to double this year’s student participation in the upcoming World Food Day Commemoration at the St. Louis Danforth Center, a day marking the founding of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. During this event, which will take place the weekend leading up to Make Your Mark Week, thousands of volunteers will package nutritious rice/soy protein meals for people facing critical food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Planning a volunteer event or partnering with a nonprofit is well within the reach of any high school student. The key is to find an interest or cause that ignites your passion and strive to make a difference. This October, kids like me, from across the country will put their passion into action during generationOn’s Make Your Mark Week, an initiative that inspires and mobilizes kids of all ages to use their energy, ingenuity and compassion to “make their mark on the world” through hands-on service. In the words of President Obama, “America needs your passion, your ideas, and your energy right at this moment … Nothing inspires me more than knowing that young people all across the country are already making their marks.”

What will you do during Make Your Mark Week (October 16-22)? Post your acts of service here: Make Your Mark Week.

For more youth service ideas and resources, and to find out more about how you can get involved in Make Your Mark Week visit: www.generationOn.org.

Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

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