February, 2013

  • YouthSpark Star of the Week: Marquis Cabrera

    Our YouthSpark Star of the Week is Marquis Cabrera, who was recognized by the Case Foundation as one of their Finding Fearless Award Winners last year. We partnered with the Case Foundation for the initiative and sponsored a Microsoft YouthSpark award to recognize a young changemaker. Marquis won the YouthSpark award, so we caught up with him to find out how he’s using technology to change the world.

    Most important question first -- how are you liking your Surface?

    [Laughs] I’m Skyping you on it right now! I love it. So far, I’ve been able to take meeting notes, use Office applications, track expenditures, create reports – it’s been very handy and efficient!

    How did you get interested in technology?

    I’ve always been interested in technology. But my interest started in high school – where I learned how to take desktop computers apart and put them back together. I learned about public data networks, user interface and Steve Case’s role in revolutionizing the Internet. As a tech enthusiast, I am honored to have been selected as one of the Case Foundation awardees.

    Tell us about the nonprofit you started, Foster Skills.

    While at Northeastern University, I founded Foster Skills, Inc. As a foster kid myself, an adoptee at age 15, and after attending care and protection cases and mentoring foster youth, I knew I wanted to create an organization that would help kids beat the odds and achieve life success.

    How do you plan to use technology in your work at Foster Skills?

    Foster Skills has big plans to use technology. Because we teach life skills, we want to utilize gamification skills training to pilot a program that will get more students excited about learning. Also, we are working with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to improve their life skills curriculum and build a web portal of resources for children. We hope to develop a social networking component in the future, perhaps with LinkedIn.

    What has been your most memorable moment at Foster Skills thus far?

    Man, I have a lot of them. But mainly it is seeing people invest their time and money in the idea to improve outcomes for foster youth – it is incredibly humbling and encouraging. I also love the team here at Foster Skills: we do a lot of ‘head down’ work here, and the small tasks can seem like drudge, but when you add them up, you see big results. We’ve seen some great big results and I’m really grateful for that – and looking forward to seeing even more.

    What is it like working with young people?

    Once, a young black man that asked me in front of his friends: “Should we hang out with white people?” I answered: “Of course, man!” I’m biracial, and I spoke to them about race relations as if they were adults. They loved it – so much, that they asked me to sign their backpacks. I was like: “Really?” I’m not Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, but they still thought what I was doing was cool. That showed me that choosing to use my education as a vehicle for social change was the best thing I could have done for myself and others.

  • The world is counting on (YOU)th and your vote!

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    There are only three days left to vote in the Microsoft Give for Youth Challenge, presented in partnership with GOOD. You can vote for one of 129 youth efforts here and don’t forget to check your email and click-to-confirm to complete the process.

    Your vote will help 20 nonprofits move on to Phase 3 of the contest, where they’ll feature their projects on the Give for Youth micro-funding platform and get a chance at $100,000 in matching funds from Microsoft.

    Check out below a random selection of micro-projects from the contest. And make sure to VOTE!

    Inspire Girls Now in Technology Evolution (IGNITE)

    Who does it serve? Young girls of all backgrounds.

    What does it do? IGNITE connects girls with women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) industries to serve as role models and mentors.

    In their own words: “The purpose of IGNITE is to inspire girls of all backgrounds to envision themselves as leaders in STEM and to empower them to make that vision a reality.”

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    Empowered Youth

    Who does it serve? Inner-city, at-risk boys between the ages of 12 and 19, most of whom have been court-ordered to our program.

    What does it do? Provides life skills/character development, mentoring, tutoring. Provides opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship training.

    In their own words: “Born into poverty, fatherless families, violent homes, violent neighborhoods, often taken care of by family members who do not want them, subjected to abandonment, abuse, and neglect; these young men turn to the streets and are often brought-up by the streets. They learn to survive, not live. Empowered Youth is a program based upon positive reinforcement, not punishment.”

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    Cool Girls

    Who does it serve? Low-income girls in Atlanta who attend Title 1 schools.

    What does it do? Provides life skills development, fitness, nutrition, STEM education, mentoring, community service programs, financial literacy, college preparation and social experiences.

    In their own words: “Our program directly impacts the community by decreasing the number of teen pregnancies, providing meaningful opportunities to engage diverse populations and exposing girls to a broad range of experiences. Cool Girls ensures that girls become self-assured and break cycles of poverty, teen pregnancy, racism and sexism.”

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    First Graduate

    Who does it serve? First generation college students in San Francisco, California.

    What does it do? First Graduate makes a 10-year commitment to each student and his/her family. They work with youth from seventh grade to senior year of college, providing services aimed at getting first generation college students graduated from a higher education institution.

    In their own words: “We at First Graduate believe that a college degree is the best way to break the cycle of poverty within families, build a productive, educated workforce, and foster an engaged and active citizenry.”

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    Minds Matter of Denver

    Who does it serve? Underprivileged high school students in Denver, Colorado.

    What does it do? Experiential learning to improve skills in writing, critical thinking, public speaking, interviewing abilities, and math. Provides college prep, as well as SAT prep.

    In their own words: “MMD has enabled participating students to achieve phenomenal success; in fact, during the 2010-2011 school years, 100% of MMD graduating seniors were accepted and attended major four-year college programs. Perhaps most amazingly, 100% of those graduating seniors were successful in securing some type of financial scholarship! Incredibly, this has been accomplished with 100% volunteer support.”

  • YouthSpark Star of the Week: Michelle Didero, CityYear Washington, D.C.

    Serving on the Microsoft Team at Cardozo Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Michelle Didero has seen firsthand how education, combined with hard work and encouragement, can change a young person’s life.

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    She worked with Jacob, a young man struggling in geometry class. He frequently showed up late to class and didn’t complete assignments. Didero began working with him, and by the end of the semester, Jacob showed up to class on time, completed his work and received a “B” in geometry. Today, he’s asking Didero about job opportunities and showing more confidence in his abilities.

    Didero recently participated as a panelist at a YouthSpark Connection event at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Microsoft co-hosted the event with the Brookings Institution, and the conversation focused on urban education in the D.C. area and how to better prepare students for future careers through STEM – science, technology, engineering and math programs. Didero said she was energized by the rich discussion and STEM education efforts. “[It’s] a movement that will change the lives of young people by giving them resources to excel and instilling in them a sense of self-worth,” she noted in a CityYear blog post

    We salute young people like Michelle for sharing her time and talents via CityYear, and for being the voice of young people in Washington, D.C. and around the world.

  • Speak from the Heart: Preserving Languages through Technology and Youth

    Language is a key driver of human connection. And yet, every two weeks, a language goes extinct. It is estimated that if nothing is done, half of the 6,000+ languages spoken today will disappear at the end of the century. The loss of these languages – often unwritten and undocumented – will eliminate a trove of cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge of the human race.

    That’s why today, we celebrate International Mother Language Day with our partner UNESCO. Microsoft, through its Local Language Program, which is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, works with UNESCO to preserve endangered languages and bring equitable representation and access of local languages in technology. Microsoft Language Interface Packs (LIPs) enables access for speakers of languages in emerging markets, like Wolof in Senegal, and Punjabi in Pakistan, which are widely spoken but hardly used in new technologies. LIPs also provide access for native speakers of endangered languages, like the 60,000 speakers of Maori in New Zealand.

    Beyond technology, there is another important way to preserve language: engaging youth. Because young people easily assimilate to the most widely used language outside of the home, the loss of language begins with younger generations. But in cases like the Cherokee nation, engaging young people at an early age by teaching Cherokee in preschool, allowed America’s largest native population to save the almost-extinct language and bring its speaker base to 16,000.

    The importance of including youth in language preservation is why Microsoft’s Local Language Program is a part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our company-wide initiative to empower 300 million young people in three years.

    Click here to read more about how Microsoft, in partnership with UNESCO, is preserving local languages.

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  • Thank You, Microsoft Employees, for Your Generosity in 2012!

    By Kathleen Hogan and Kurt DelBene, 2012 Employee Giving Campaign Co-Chairs

    While celebrating the 30th Microsoft Giving Campaign, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft employees have raised $1 billion in cash for more than 31,000 global nonprofit and community organizations. Today, we are honored to share that Microsoft employees gave more than $105 million last year as part of the 2012 Giving Program!

    Across Microsoft, teams create unique events for co-workers to have fun while participating in our culture of giving. Employees make donations of all sizes through bake sales, dog and cat calendars, photo and cook books, and dunk tanks. Our most popular events, the Microsoft auction, the 5K Walk/Run, and the Giving Tree continue to draw broad employee participation.

    Day of Caring Giving

    Microsoft Citizenship team volunteering on Day of Caring.

    Over the past 30 years, four nonprofits have consistently received the most funding from Microsoft employees, and we honored them in October with an additional $25,000 grant: World Vision, Seattle Children’s Hospital, United Way of King County, and American National Red Cross. From helping our local community to providing humanitarian aid around the world, employees have consistently provided money, time, and resources to these organizations. Here’s what our support means to them:

    “The generous donations of Microsoft employees, along with the matching gifts provided from Microsoft allow the Red Cross to deliver services in response to the needs of our community. We are also proud to have many Microsoft employees serve as volunteers, giving of their time and talent. Whether we are helping people recover from a house fire or helping those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the support from Microsoft allows the Red Cross to be there for those who need us most.” – Neal Litvack, Chief Development Officer, American Red Cross

    “Over the years, Microsoft’s generous philanthropic community has helped Seattle Children’s work towards fulfilling its mission of finding cures for pediatric disease and caring for all children in our community regardless of their family’s ability to pay. The $25,000 grant we recently received was attributed to our Greatest Needs Fund. The fund gives us flexibility to pay for the most important projects and programs that help us best care for our patients and their families.” – Thomas Hansen, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, Seattle Children’s Hospital

    “One in four kids in our community are at risk of hunger, which affects their ability to learn, grow and thrive. The continued generosity of Microsoft and its employees over the last 30 years has enabled United Way of King County to put in place many long-term strategies like the 2013 Summer Meals Campaign. The $25,000 grant will help us launch new sites, including at food banks, YMCA community organizations, and schools, and expand the number of days per week that the sites are open.” – Jon Fine, Chief Executive Officer, United Way of King County

    "We know that once a child's basic needs are met, digital skills development is vital to helping children succeed in a global world. World Vision is deeply grateful to partner with Microsoft as they continue to lead innovation in technology around the world.” – Kristan Easley, Executive Director of Global Corporate Partnerships, World Vision

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    People often talk to us about the dedication of Microsoft employees. We see that in action on a daily basis, but we also see their passion spark when focused on helping others less fortunate. To everyone who participated this year, thank you for your generosity and support for the causes that you’re passionate about.

    We are so proud of the culture of giving here at Microsoft, and we can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

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