Get your copy of the
HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book
and seed fund a social enterprise bringing
economic opportunity to kids in foster care.
Do you know how AirBnB scraped together enough money in the early days?
They sold Obama/McCain themed breakfast cereal at the Democratic Convention.
Instead of cereal (too many empty carbs), we're funding our social enterprise with a silly children's book.
For every copy of the HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book you buy, we gift one to a child in need in your honor. Any profit left over goes to fund #hotskillspaybills. It's a social enterprise that connects youth in foster care to in-demand skills that pay the bills.
Hi! I'm Neesha and I am passionate about helping children and youth in foster care prosper.
My "serious" job is Chief Architect & Mastermind behind HotSkillsPayBills. I'm also the Chief Joke Picker at hahakidsjokes.com - on a mission to help parents and kids create lifelong giggle memories. The first job makes me bounce out of bed in the morning. The other keeps me sane (I struggle with Serious Grownup Syndrome (S.G.S.).
Three years ago, I met a young 19 year old girl in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. She had aged out of foster care and found herself homeless. This started my journey down the rabbit hole to figure out a solution. No nineteen year old should be homeless in the richest country in the world. Right?
Very soon, I realized I was hitting only brick walls. I tried to do a pilot in a nearby county. But all I got was the sound of No's and This-Will-Never-Work or Kids-Won't-Be-Interested.
I poured over research papers about Randomized Control Trials in workforce development, I met with social workers and case workers, and interviewed foster alumni who had experienced many obstacles after aging out of foster care.
But for all my good intentions and efforts to make a dent, for all research and three pilot tests in Baltimore with youth who had recently aged out of foster care, I literally could not figure out a way to solve this problem. One cohort of young people I trained in Baltimore became homeless as I was training them. It was too little, too late.
Then in 2016, I made up my mind to reach my students while they were still in foster care. Before they aged out. Before it was too late. Even if the system shut its doors in my face. I would figure out a way.
The HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book will not only seed fund #hotskillspaybills, but also attract future mentors and career guides for my students experiencing foster care. Many of the youth I've trained so far have told me, "first I want someone who cares about me." They feel unloved, abandoned, and alone.
What is #hotskillspaybills?
Step 1: We run DreamCatcher Workshops where youth from foster care (ages 14-18) have permission to dream big.
Step 2: Our next step is to use the FosteRevolutionaries No Excuses 90 Day Power Journal to help them achieve their first 90 day goal.
Our curriculum will be co-created by youth in foster care using the guiding principle, "Nothing for us, without us."
There are so many pieces to this jigsaw puzzle but our goal right now is to run a pilot with one group, then figure out what else needs to be integrated into our solution later (for example, StrengthsFinder or similar assessment). We see ourselves as a network or a marketplace where we offer a couple of the pieces, but more importantly, bring other players to provide other pieces. We believe in *never reinventing the wheel* and collaborating whenever possible.
#hotskillspaybills ISO Smart Investors & Advisors: YOU?
If you'd like to read why focusing on foster care matters and you're a policy geek like me, read this issue brief by researchers at the University of Chicago.
My students are ambitious. They lack exposure to the wider world, connections, skills training, and mentors most middle-class teens take for granted. Look at one of the dreams I caught in my last Dream Catcher Workshop. This young woman didn't say, "I want to be...." She wrote, "I will with no doubt be..." When I first started doing these workshops, I thought the problem would be a lack of passion. I was SO WRONG. She even knows what she needs to do in the short-term to make her dream come true.
#hotskillspaybills is achievable. 400,000 kids cycle through foster care. 40,000 or so age out every year. This is a huge problem but it's "figure-out-able." (credit for the term: Marie Forleo). We're not sending humans to Mars (*wink* *wink* Elon Musk, we're fixing economic outcomes for kids in foster care.
There is a burning need. Many foster alumni tell me this is something they wished they had. I'm connected to many of them and they've shared stories of how they were homeless, or working three jobs just to survive after they turned 18. One woman I met had been through 18 different schools before she graduated high school. Another told me about how her foster parents locked the fridge so she couldn't access anything except canned food from the local Food Bank. Many have no idea what a checkbook is, or have never entered a grocery store (the ones who live in group homes have the worst time adjusting because they live in institutional settings). It's no surprise when they age out into homelessness or end up in minimum wage, dead-end jobs.
Biggest challenge: Identifying innovators within the foster care system willing to run pilot projects. The system is set up to mitigate risk (this is good when it comes to keeping kids safe) but this can be hard if you're trying to introduce something new. We have an approach that we are testing now so crossing fingers that it works.
Failure is NOT an option.
I know how the startup world loves the idea of failing forward. But the statistic below is why failure is off the table. We have to figure this out.
Whereas approximately 1.1% of children in the U. S. enter foster care each year, the Casey Family Programs (Casey) Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study found that 8% of [foster] alumni with children had a child placed in foster care. [Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4340584/]
Essentially, if you've been through foster care, your children have a much higher probability of ending up in foster care.
What if I told you the ultimate goal is to PREVENT the next generation of kids from ending up in foster care?
Grab a front row seat and some popcorn so as we build #hotskillspaybills you can witness us getting pie in our faces. Starting November 2017, we will send you PIEFACE, our unpredictably weird, sometimes tear-jerking, and occasionally hilarious monthly accountability emails with silly knock-knock jokes.
Hold our feet to the fire.
We do have to keep some things private due to confidentiality and other constraints - but for the most part, we believe the journey is as important as the destination. And we want you along for the ride.
Your job is to reply (yes, this is not a one-way street, it's a conversation).
Encourage us, advise us, connect us, and sometimes just hold us while we ugly cry.
If that sounds fun to you and you can handle a bumpy ride, free wedgies for all (my 8 year old son's sense of humor must be rubbing off on me *groan*) then come cheer us on!
***Our work is serious, but we don't take ourselves too seriously***
P.S. Want to meet an incredible human being who inspired me to give up fancy corporate titles and six figure paychecks for this social entrepreneurship path? He had such a huge impact on my life, I wrote a book about him.
I am sure that... Neesha Mirchandani's biography of Baba Amte will help more people come to understand the life and work of a remarkable human being whose guiding princples are compassion and others before self.
Like Leila, I believe that charity and philanthropy isn't enough to move the needle. Social mission can, and must be baked into the way businesses run. Take a listen: