Before getting to the beginning of The Better World Challenge, let’s travel back in time to my childhood. I grew up in Fieldbrook, California, a town of 600 people. My elementary school was K-8 and only was home to 120 students in the entire school. It was tiny, which made it feel like one big family.
My elementary school experience was my first exposure to how much community matters. My actions as an eighth-grader were seen by fifth-graders. There was a level of expectation that we had to be role models for the younger students. This was when I started to develop the desire to mentor humans.
I still remember getting in trouble for making fun of someone for their home life. I’m not sure what grade it was; it must have been 4th or 5th. My principal asked the question, “does it feel good to be mean?” Then, I was like, no, no, it doesn’t feel right to be mean. So I ended up apologizing to my classmate and was determined to be up my kindness game.
Kindness, generosity, and social responsibility are key values I learned from Fieldbrook Elementary. To graduate eighth grade, we had to do ten hours of community service. At the time, of course, I wasn’t stoked about it. But it’s the little lessons, stories, and values going to a small school that taught me how important it is to give back to your community.
Growing up in a rural community like Humboldt County showed me the power of community. One person’s actions could have a ripple effect and be felt by another community member, even if it wasn’t intentional. As a result, I’m determined to put out good into the world and serve my community wherever that is.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2016, and I found myself in a whole new world. I started attending the University of Oregon. My small Humboldt County lens was instantly broadened by meeting people from all over the world. I’d never seen so many people in one area, it’s impressive, I thought!
Fortunately for me, I was introduced to The Holden Center during a before school backpacking trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness. This has been my second backpacking trip in my entire life, and actually the second one of the summer. After my enriching experience, I felt like the Holden Center would be where I could really find myself and grow. And that it was.
In the Spring of 2017, I volunteered with youth for the first time in my life through a Holden Center program called Duck Corps at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley. Immediately after this experience, I recognized the power of working with youth. The knowledge provided me an opportunity to reflect on how imperative adult role models were in my life. This has led me to work, volunteer, and intern at multiple Boys & Girls Clubs throughout my college career. To this day, I work at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley.
During college, I also went to Uganda twice for two weeks on a cultural learning experience. My perspective was then broadened globally. Now, I knew I wanted to have a global impact. I started asking questions like why are rural communities in Uganda even more impoverished than America? They may seem like simple questions that you’re saying to yourself; read up on some history of colonization Justin.
These questions, though, led me to be the Vice President of Philanthropy and Community Engagement for my fraternity Alpha Sigma Phi. While in this position, I recognized the power a group of people could have on a community. That year, we started shifting our fraternity culture to care more about giving back to our community, and we volunteered over 600 hours collectively.
Now I started to dive deeper; it’s more than just volunteering. It’s about why we volunteer and why that is important. In the spring of 2019, I launch my blog, The Better World Challenge, with no idea of creating a website. For the first year of the website, all I did was a blog about what I was passionate about, learning about personal development and community building.
Before we dive into why The Better World Challenge exists today, I have to come back to the Holden Center. During my senior year of college, I worked for the program Duck Corps where I came to realize the power of community. We were able to coordinate more volunteers to non-profits in the Eugene-Springfield area than ever before. But again, it’s not just about checking the volunteer box. We dove deep into a reflection on why these organizations even have to exist in the first place. How can we continue to learn more about these issues and inspire change in our own communities?
That’s why The Better World Challenge exists today. We are a movement that is empowering, inspiring, and educating humans on the social issues that our society is facing today. Not to just check the box, but to actually encourage action towards real tangible change. I wake up every day excited to put in work for The Better World Challenge because I know the potential we humans have.
A world free of racism
All humans have equitable opportunities to pursue a meaningful life.
We stop polluting our earth and start nurturing it.
We promote lifestyles that are healthy, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Dismantle the grim realities a medical bill has on families with affordable healthcare
Invest relentlessly into our next generation to inspire them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers
Accept all humans for who they are regardless of sexuality and gender.
Decide to have deliberate and tough conversations in person instead of spewing hate on the internet.
Lift up our peers instead of tearing them down.
Create a world where poverty doesn’t exist and...
All humans have access to proper nutrition.
A Roof over their head.
For a while, I was asking myself, is this realistic? Am I too naive? No, I’m not. Because if we strive for a world where everyone can belong, feel safe, learn, be sheltered, eat, and love freely, we can achieve it.