Youth Venture Talent Showcase celebrates student-led change

United Way and Youth Venture invade the Microsoft NERD Center with an evening of inspiration and ingenuity

Amid the booming hip hop beats, the Instagram photo sessions and the towers of pizza boxes, there was a girl wearing a dress made out of garbage.

On May 30, in the halls of the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center, it was the 2014 Youth Venture Talent Showcase, a boisterous celebration of creativity and community. The Youth Venture program is a partnership between United Way and Ashoka’s Youth Venture to support young people year-round in implementing their own ideas for social change.

Youth Venture teams from Boston to Lynn to Lowell, and all points in-between, pitched their project ideas to community volunteers, looking for seed funding to get their visions off the ground. Youth received support from volunteer mentors throughout the months, such as tips on managing budgets and employing marketing techniques and related business concepts to ensure their projects were a success. The Talent Showcase was the culmination, an opportunity for the students and their adult mentors to come together to share and celebrate their efforts through song, dance  and video diaries.

One such group was from the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC). Motivated by their distaste for the amount of litter and garbage they saw in their neighborhoods, a group of youth from EBECC, dubbed EcoHispainic United, started collecting. Bins and bins of grocery bags, soda cans and plastic accumulated, and this charge to beautify their city ultimately turned into an awareness builder and a revenue-generator. When the mother of one of the group members showed off her unique skill of transforming this refuse into wearable items, the group’s imagination took off.

And that was their project: after school, twice a week for three weeks, the mom taught the kids of EcoHispanic United how to weave, knit and fabricate purses, handbags, bracelets and, yes, dresses, out of the trash they had picked up.

Each student generated one piece a month and each month EBECC held an art show for friends, family and neighbors to sell their wares. Proceeds from sales went to the purchase of recycle bins, that could be placed around East Boston, which meant less clutter on the streets, more sewing materials for EcoHispanic United and the cycle continues until the neighborhoods were pristine.

Theirs was but one story of a Youth Venture group leveraging their passions and talents into a net benefit for their community. The projects on display were as diverse as the issues and interests, but for one rainy Friday night in Cambridge, everyone came together with a common purpose, to celebrate each other’s commitment to making a difference in their community.