Student Success Story: How I Started My Own Nonprofit

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Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

Community service provides the opportunity to give back, engage with those in need, and have a positive impact in your own community. Volunteering in high school helps shape students into being civically and socially responsible citizens in their own communities, as well as global citizens. Community service not only impacts those who are being served, but also those who serve. In fact, working with a nonprofit teaches students to develop skills in leadership and communication, to work in a team, and find solutions to problems.

At Empowerly we’ve witnessed many of our students engage in different ways in their community. Specifically, our students are serving their schools, nonprofit organizations, churches, hospitals and local governments. But we’ve also seen some students see an unmet need and take charge. Above all, these students see a need and create their own platform to meet it. They are genuine instigators of change, employing their leadership and organizational skills to build from the bottom up.  

One such student is Rachit. As an Empowerly alumnus, Rachit established Fremont Debate Academy, an organization which teaches elementary and middle school students debate and civics. He and three other students established the nonprofit in late 2014. But first, they saw an unmet need for debate programs in schools. 

I had the opportunity to hear from Rachit about how he started the program. Read on to learn about the rewards and challenges he has met along the way. 

Tell me a little about yourself.

My name is Rachit Pareek, and I’m currently a junior studying Global Management and Data Science at UC Berkeley.  I’m from Fremont, California and I absolutely love traveling. I studied abroad in London my first semester at Cal, and have made my way across much of Western Europe over the past two years. Outside of school, I’m involved in a consulting club and a fraternity. I love catching up friends over a game of basketball, movies (huge Tarantino fan), and music (Logic’s my favorite artist). Career-wise, I’m extremely interested in software engineering and product management.

What does your Fremont Debate Academy do?

Fremont Debate Academy (FDA) is an education nonprofit organization. The mission is to create a debate and civics program in every school and every district. FDA was founded back in 2014. And over the past 7 years we’ve taught over 2,000 students and engaged over 13,000 volunteer hours. We currently have a volunteer team of over 200 individuals spanning 12 states and 6 countries. Our expansive curriculum works for both remote and in-person instruction, by design. It consists of presentations, topic guides, videos, worksheets, and more. The content focuses on debate, public speaking, and civic engagement.

Why did you establish your organization?

We established FDA in order to give back to our global community. We want to create a world where resource availability is never an issue for people with the intrinsic motivation to learn and create. Someone with the will to develop and achieve should also have the means at their disposal. We hope to contribute towards this goal through our work by enabling students to have their voices heard, no matter where they are in the world.

Next, what about setting it up?

We began our first program at a local elementary school in Fremont, with the support of local administration. We received overwhelming demand for it. Over the following years, we gradually grew the reach of our programs across Fremont before beginning external programs in different states. Currently, we have a core volunteer team of about 50. Within that, we have teams focusing on curriculum, outreach, operations, marketing, partnerships, technology, and more. These volunteers support all core operational work along with growth through outreach, curriculum and infrastructure development.

What was the most challenging aspect in forming Fremont Debate Academy? 

The organization entirely runs on volunteer efforts. Instilling volunteers with a sense of ownership in FDA’s shared vision is the most challenging aspect of making progress towards those goals. Whenever team members have understood that they have the ability to create and improve essentially whatever they want to, we’ve seen phenomenal improvements. It improves our processes, reach, curriculum resources, and more.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of Fremont Debate Academy? 

Every member of this organization is extremely accomplished in an academic and professional regard. What’s most rewarding to me is seeing how we’re able to collectively put our knowledge to work. We work in a context that directly benefits members of the community, while continuing to improve individually in the process. We consistently strive to improve our efficiency, sense of community, and our ability to provide assistance to those who need it the most. Our recent partnership with Broward County in Florida and conversations with Teach for America in states across the US are big steps towards this improvement. What’s also very heartwarming is that some students who began their debate journeys with FDA in elementary school are now themselves parts of our volunteer team. These individuals have been contributing to FDA’s work throughout high school, and many are now on the verge of entering college.

Finally, did you have mentors who helped you? If so, what did they do?

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of the community supporters and mentors we’ve collectively benefited from over the years. This ranges from school and district administrators, teachers, parents, friends, and most of all, the volunteers themselves. These people championed our work when we met logistical issues, provided professional and organizational advice as we’ve grown, and have been personal lifelines in our most challenging moments. 

In conclusion, Rachit and his team are making a real difference. Do you also have a desire to get involved in your community? Similarly, do you want to rally your peers and establish a group or organization which will serve your community? If you do, Empowerly’s team can help. Our experts can provide you with the advice and guidance to help see your ideas materialize. So, book a consult and see how we can help.

Questions? Let us know!