When she was seventeen Simone founded St. Louis Volunteen.com as a resource for area youth who wanted to volunteer in the community. Eventually she and her brother Jake expanded the local site and co-founded VolunTEEN Nation, a comprehensive national organization for youth and families to find volunteer options. Simone and her brother have since taken a step back from the nonprofit, holding roles on the board of directors, and other teens have stepped up to lead the organization.
The journey of St. Louis Volunteen.com’s expansion began in 2011, when Simone attended an IdeaBounce event held by the Skandalaris Center. Before this event the nonprofit was a local organization looking to expand nationally. IdeaBounce was the first time she was given the space to speak in front of a large group. From the experience she gained insight about the opportunities at WashU, learned from experts, and gained a sense of confidence. Her favorite part of IdeaBounce was the reception and dinner for the winners. At the dinner she got to meet with the judges and entrepreneurs. According to Simone it helped her “recognize the importance of being able to speak to people in a more intimate setting.”
It’s from the IdeaBounce event that Simone began to learn from mentors and large nonprofits. These mentors were invaluable as she began to explore filing for 501(c)(3) status. With the help of an attorney from Armstrong Teasdale, a large law firm headquartered in St. Louis, and the support of the overall St. Louis community St. Louis Volunteen.com was able to navigate the challenging process.
Running a nonprofit is different from a traditional startup as VolunTEEN Nation’s main focus is attracting youth who can volunteer their time. Since the organization is entirely volunteer run and youth lead it does not spend any money on salaries and all the money raised from corporations and larger nonprofits goes towards service projects and grants.
Being a young innovator has taught Simone a great deal about running an organization and overall decision making. The biggest thing she’s learned has been to take advantage of all of the resources around her. She’s also learned that it is okay to make mistakes, “it’s how you grow as an individual.” Leading an organization focused on youth leadership and volunteerism has illustrated the importance of learning from everyone within your organization regardless of age or experience. As she and her brother transitioned from high school in St. Louis to college out of state, she learned how it is critical for students to pick a college that supports entrepreneurship and allows its students to grow. For Simone, attending St. Bonaventure, a small school in Western New York, allowed her to continue to explore her interests, grow the organization, and speak at conferences about the organization. At UNC her brother was a part of a scholarship program that encouraged entrepreneurship.
Simone wants young people to know that now is the time to start something. “Youth gives you the power to start something new.” She’s seen first hand how motivation and drive combined with the resources available to the WashU community can make a big difference.
Simone ended our conversation by expressing the importance and benefits of volunteerism, beyond the obvious benefit of helping the community:
- By volunteering you are “improving your own well being and self confidence.” For Simone volunteering guided her to pursue a career in psychiatry. She hopes to combine her interests in working with young people and driving social change by working in medical school administration to help students struggling with mental health and the overall stress of being a student.
- Volunteering allows you to learn about your community. It gives you something to do while supporting organizations in your area.
- You can boost your connections and add to your CV. Simone shared that “people should volunteer somewhere that aligns with their passions and interests.” You should do what you love within your volunteerism to benefit the community and yourself.