We Got Next: Karolina Ulasevich
Posted on 07 June 2017
This month YXU has launched our "We Got Next Campaign" to highlight more than 20 young leaders from across the country who are applying their passions to make a difference in their community. Follow along with YXU on Facebook, @yxulife on Twitter and Instagram and visit our store to grab a We Got Next Tee.
“Kids say the darndest things,” says everyone.
And it’s true. The abundance of creativity and imagination they possess is remarkable. They are daredevils, they are fearless and they are hysterical. Oh, and honest, too.
In the last three years, I have spent copious amounts of time with children. First, to introduce STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through various hands-on experiments to third and fourth graders. Then, to promote literacy and how fun it can be to second graders. With every visit, I left with a huge smile on my face and my abs sore from laughing so much.
Sounds simple, right?
What if I told you that the majority of the young students who I work with come from impoverished communities, where their schools receive limited, if any, in government funding, and some of these students have never held a brand new piece of literature in their hands.
How about that 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read? And ⅔ of students who cannot read proficiently, by the end of 4th grade, will end up in jail or on welfare?
Sounds tragic, but it doesn’t have to be. Because at YXU, “WE Got Next,” and I’m here to tell you why.
April 6, 2015. A normal day for most of you, but for me, this day redirected my purpose in life. All it took was one very special little girl and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
I met Ellie seven months prior to that day through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Before my visit, our coordinator called me to ask if I would be “okay with working with a struggling second grader that doesn’t possess many verbal skills.” Well, sure, I was up for the challenge. As an only child myself, all I wanted was to gain a new little sister and play with her for hours. What could possibly go wrong?
Ellie is one of those students I mentioned earlier that comes from an economically disadvantaged community and household. Initially, she couldn’t look me in the eyes, she barely spoke - which made reading time very difficult to initiate - and every time I asked for a high five, she froze. It truly broke my heart.
But on April 6th of 2015, things changed. As I stepped into her elementary school, Ellie came running out from behind the doors, jumping straight into my arms and giving me the biggest hug. She proceeded to take out the Dr. Seuss book and asked for my help to read.
Although I had witnessed Ellie struggle to read certain words and mix up her letters for months, it didn’t hit me until that day that my Little Sister may be dyslexic. Unfortunately, I was right.
Remember those statistics I presented earlier? My world crumbled when I learned that Ellie did not own a single book. She was so close to becoming that statistic because both her family and her school were not able to provide proper resources necessary for her to succeed. Her pain may not have been visible externally, but I knew it didn’t just affect her academically, it was a big reason as to why she was socially reserved as well.
That pain is something I have felt myself 14 years prior as the only immigrant student in my third and fourth grade classrooms, keeping my head down during story time, praying that the teachers wouldn’t call on me because I had a hard time learning English. The same thing happened on the playground - other kids reminded me of why I was different, so I grew up to be extremely introverted.
That day changed my life completely. It reminded me of how fortunate so many of us are to lead the lives that we do, thanks to our parents and all of the mentors we have gained throughout the years. Some of whom may have been the ones who bought our first English reading book for us and some whom went the extra mile to make sure we were excelling academically.
But most importantly, that eye-opening hour I spent with Ellie inspired me to get into as many inner-city and rural classrooms as I could in order to provide children with tangible literature to call their own. No child should be afraid to read aloud in class, and no child should feel ashamed because they mix up letters. Children are the future and there is no wiser investment that we can make than in their success.
Thanks to my partnership with the “2nd & 7 Foundation” started by the Buckeyes, I have provided over 1,500 children with books over the last two years, and I have personally reached 23 classrooms and five Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Myself and five other individuals have also spent a semester co-founding “Student 4 Students,” a B Corporation, or a business using profits as a force for good that sells backpacks targeted at millennials. For every backpack sold, four books are donated to low-socioeconomic schools.
As Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
You see, all it takes is one individual with one brilliant, creative idea and an immense amount of passion to ideate and to initiate change. And it takes a village to put things in motion and to ignite the fire you feel as a leader, an entrepreneur, a miracle maker, etc., to change the lives of individuals. These same individuals consistently remind you WHY you do what you do, WHY you started in the first place and WHY you need to keep going because you may be the only reason they wake up in the morning and feel like they matter, like they are wanted and like they belong.
Get involved in your community today. Call your parents and text your mentors why you are thankful for them. Remember those tiny moments of when a child clung to you, telling you they don’t want you to leave or when a cancer patients tells you your smile made them forget they even had cancer. Buy sticky notes and start ideating for your next social venture. No idea is too small nor too crazy. Go forth and set the world on fire.
Together, we can change the world by leading by example and acting selflessly on behalf of others. As young leaders, we can inspire others to share a vision in order to leave bits and pieces of this world better than we found them.
Millennials have the power to change the public policy and change the cycle of illiteracy, homelessness, hardship, of anything, so let’s end it together today. The change begins with you.