We Day Minnesota celebrates service
On the surface, you might make the mistake of thinking the youth at We Day Minnesota were drawn there because of the celebrity speakers and performers.
No doubt, my two 13-year-old’s were certainly excited to see the lineup, which included Carly Rae Jepsen, members of the Minnesota Vikings, the Jonas Brothers, Bridgit Mendler, Debby Ryan and more.
But the real draw to any We Day event is clearly the message.
Throughout the program today, I kept thinking to myself that all the students around me were world changers, and they were there to fuel up on the encouragement and energy of the event for a few hours before going home to do more of the things that earned them a ticket (We Day tickets are not sold, they’re earned).
I thought Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children (which started We Day in 2007), put it well in his remarks during a press conference over the lunch hour.
“We dream of the day that when a young person talks about who they are they will talk about their academics, they will talk about their sports, maybe their music and their hobbies, but they will always talk about service – that it becomes a pillar of how youth define themselves.”
That service theme was front and center at We Day Minnesota – which was just the second We Day in the U.S. – and General Mills was proud to sponsor it, through Yoplait, Cheerios and Green Giant.
Kim Nelson, our executive vice president of External Relations, took the stage in the morning to thank the students for their service and issued a challenge to do more, especially in terms of things that could be donated to families in need, like clothing, books and food.
“As a mom of a 12-year-old, I know that you are the generation that is taking the future into your own hands,” Kim said. “Today, I’m challenging you to join us in Nourishing Lives. To make small changes that can make a big difference in the lives of others. I’m challenging you to get with your friends, or your family, or your neighbors to figure out what else you could do to help others. Don’t be afraid to think big.”
Kim mentioned the We Scare Hunger initiative, where youth are encouraged to ask for food donations on Halloween night, rather than collecting candy door-to-door.
Michelle Bergh, Miss Minnesota Pre-Teen, has been active in raising money to fight breast cancer, organizing teams to participate in Susan G. Komen events.
In her appearance on the We Day stage, she spoke on behalf of Yoplait, and the theme of “Gift + Issue = Hope.”
In partnership with Free The Children, the program asks youth to pledge to utilize their gifts and talents to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer causes.
“In my case, my gift, and my issue of breast cancer created hope for those closest to me,” said Bergh. “How will you use your gift to bring hope to create hope?”
I thought Molly Burke’s message was incredibly compelling. She spoke of her experience being bullied, and urged the youth at We Day to take action to stop bullying.
“It might seem like a small gesture but all together our impact will be huge,” Burke said. “When we all stand together, no one gets singled out … We can immediately change someones else’s life.”
She spoke in partnership with Green Giant and PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, and a new student-to-student program called The WE WILL Generation.
Cheerios and Free The Children, through First Book founder Kyle Zimmer, announced their Cheer On Reading initiative.
First Book has given away more than 100 million books in 20 years, and also partners with Cheerios on its Spoonfuls of Stories program (since 2001, we have enclosed 70 million books inside Cheerios cereal boxes).
“Our success depends on people getting involved, who roll up their sleeves and become heroes on behalf of kids all over North America,” said Zimmer.
She stressed how youth could help get books into the hands of children all over the world, who are waiting to open their minds to great stories.
“You guys are leaders and you are builders, and we will serve every kid if you join us,” Zimmer said.
The youth received that message loud and clear even before We Day Minnesota began, as book collection bins for Cheer on Reading filled up quickly inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The kids even did a “wave” that went on for several minutes, holding yellow “Cheer” cards to support the Send Cheer to Teachers program.
I couldn’t possibly do justice in this blog post to all the great speakers, like Martin Luther King III, Queen Noor of Jordan, or the inspirational Spencer West – a double amputee who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
But I truly appreciated the spirit of their remarks, and the entire event. It was an honor to be in the arena to see it firsthand.
At the We Day Minnesota press conference, the Jonas Brothers’ Joe Jonas, summed it up nicely.
“I think it’s incredible to see how these young people are finding their own ways to really give back,” Jonas said. “They understand that being good to people is cool again.”
The cool kids will be at a We Day near you, in the near future.