Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge supporter of Echoing Green. They have an amazing track record of incubating innovative solutions to pressing social issues. The founders of Teach for America, The Genocide Intervention Network, City Year, and Green for All are some of the trailblazers that have been Echoing Green Fellows.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I had the opportunity to meet some of the finalists Thursday night at an event coordinated by my fabulous cousin Deva. I helped read through applications and conduct interviews so I know making it to the finalist stage is no small accomplishment.

Every single one of the proposed projects was incredible. Some of my favorites:

The J.U.I.C.E. Project: When I read about the project it came alive to me instantly. In communities hit hardest with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, what if we turned corner stores into places for affordable healthy food, health literacy, exercise, and art programs? Having grown up in a community where the bodega/corner store was our main source of food I can see the value in placing it at the center of a health conscious lifestyle. I chatted with angie beatty and shawn mckie, the leaders of this initiative, and was blown away by their vision. They view themselves as members of the community and speak in terms of collaboration, community building, and support.

Jamaica Leadership Academy: Colleen Hinds, the leader of a network of schools in Jamaica—designed to combat poverty and the country’s brain drain—came up to me after giving her 90 second pitch. Apparently through out her pitch she noticed how I was basically jumping up and down with excitement for her idea. So she sat down with me and allowed me and my friend to ask a million and one questions about curriculum, funding, and challenges.  Fostering a sense of ownership in one’s country is an enormous challenge but is necessary to develop crucial social, human, and economic capital.

City Hall Fellows: I didn’t get a chance to speak with Bethany Henderson about her bold project to provide recent college grads with positions in city halls around the country but what resonated was her desire to get young people involved in local government as a powerful tool for social change. I see a similar issue happening with the nonprofit sector as young people, wanting to change the world, don’t see it as a viable option for a number of reasons, resulting in the oft cited leadership gap. The same is happening in the government sector so I am excited to see this project.

The rest of the finalists are here so feel free to read about them and ask them questions.

I was equally impressed with the staff at Echoing Green. Talking with Maritza, Michael, and Cheryl gave me a glimpse of the talent and passion that make Echoing Green the amazing organization that it is. I’ve invited myself to their office as an unofficial member of the family because they really do rock :D To learn more about the organization visit them here.