Aaron's Presents


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AARON'S PRESENTS

Leah Okimoto  I  Founder   

Inspiring kids to give of themselves for the good of the world.

aaronspresents.org

 
ABOUT
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I have always been passionate about supporting people, kids and adults alike, as they strive to achieve their potential and feel purposeful and fulfilled by their lives. Nothing excites me more than seeing other people find that spark within themselves that is in each one of us. I firmly believe that every human being has something unique and positive to contribute to the world, so I couldn’t imagine a better job in the world than mentor and advocate for positive youth empowerment! Before starting Aaron’s Presents in memory of my infant son's short but powerful life, my passion was composing music for musical theatre, and I also ran a legal recruiting firm, tutored and mentored kids, and volunteered at homeless shelters, hospitals, schools and meal kitchens. Currently, I live on the campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, MA with my husband and two daughters.

Aaron’s Presents gives youth an opportunity to empower themselves through real-life experiences that they themselves have envisioned and planned. They learn to tap into their own unique qualities to create positive impact in their communities and beyond. Our process is designed to be accessible to any child, regardless of individual circumstances, skill and knowledge levels, available resources or other adult support. We mentors meet with the kids at their school or after-school program weekly, typically for a half hour or less. Most projects take from 3-6 months to complete. For most, this is the first time our participants have applied for anything, participated in anything service-related, or led a project from start to finish. Going through the various steps that are involved in any project is eye-opening, and they have consistently demonstrated commitment, passion and perseverance. While we provide the resources and logistical help, they are the ones who bring their ideas to life in every other way.

NEED
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Activities for children are typically self- or achievement-oriented, focused on developing academic, artistic or athletic skill, but not on emphasizing a larger purpose behind acquiring those skills; namely, increasing one’s ability to contribute positively to the world and the lives of others. We believe that this is one factor that is resulting in a growing lack of meaning and purpose, as well as a growing narcissism and lack of empathy, among teens and young adults (studies by Peter Gray, Ph.D., Boston College professor of psychology, and Richard Weissbourd, Making Caring Common). In addition, opportunities that do encourage service or giving to others are usually adult-initiated and led. Children are simply participants, some interested, some less so. In addition, adults, not the kids, usually define success. To our knowledge, there is no organization doing similar work anywhere with a similar approach. National-level programs are competitive, provide no individual mentoring, require adult support provided by applicants, and are largely focused on high school-aged youth. All of these qualities greatly disadvantage underserved and younger children.

IMPACT
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Aaron’s Presents makes a positive impact on the lives of children while also helping to strengthen communities through their kind, thoughtful and creative efforts. As a result of their ideas and initiative, diverse groups of people are brought together, and both the givers and receivers benefit. The compounding impact of each project is distributed throughout the community, and whether average costs are viewed as $250/project, $100/participant or $2/community member directly impacted, the return on investment is clear. Everyone wins, the ripple effects are limitless and the children feel empowered and excited after catching a glimpse of their potential to make a positive difference in the world. 8th grader Nana from Lowell, who completed several projects focused on helping children, said: “My name is Nana. My parents emigrated from Ghana to the U.S. My mother used to read to me stories about heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. She taught me about people who changed the world and about how someday, I could too. As a child we see leaders as only older people. We think that making the world a better place is something we can’t achieve until we get older. We think that one day we’ll change the world or someday we’ll become president. But for me that one day would come soon… Aaron’s Presents is creating a generation of young leaders for the world. Aaron’s Presents helps kids realize that they have something valuable to give to the world at whatever age they may be.”

There is no purpose without impact.
— Leah Okimoto