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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Change the World, Change Your Life: An Interview with Angela Perkey

18,000 children die of hunger every day. By 2030, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park. 47 million Americans do not have health insurance. From job loss and foreclosures to global warming and poverty, it’s hard not to feel powerless in the face of such depressing news. Yet, many young people today are more eager than ever to get involved, to do something to improve the world. They crave meaningful lives that are worth remembering.

Angela Perkey is the founder of Students Serve, a national nonprofit that awards service grants to college students. Students Serve has been mentioned or featured in several publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education and USA Today.

Angela’s book, Change the World, Change Your Life, which was published earlier this year by Conari Press, shows young people how to get involved and effectively address the problems they care most about, from their own backyard to the world stage. It provides a kind of blueprint for being of service and includes several pages of links to practical resources for starting a non-profit or other service agency.

I had the privilege of speaking with Angela recently about ways each of us can be of service in the world.

Shelly Rachanow: I know you believe, as I do, that each of us has the power to change the world. Why do you believe this is so?

Angela Perkey:  Even the smallest things we do on a daily basis can impact the life of someone else. Smiling at a stranger and taking the time to talk with the grocery cashier can turn their days around. You never know what someone else has been going through, and this is just a small example. The effect that you can have on the lives of others through service and by giving financial contributions to solve world problems is vast.

Shelly Rachanow: What prompted you to found Students Serve?

Angela Perkey:  As a college student several years ago, I became frustrated in classes because we were coming up with new and realistic plans for solving the problems that my classmates and I were learning about in textbooks. However, few of us could use our ideas to improve communities because we didn't have the basic funding that was necessary. In many cases we only needed a couple hundred dollars. Because few students could use their skills and ideas to improve the world due to lack of funding, I decided to launch Students Serve. The nonprofit provides grants that empower students across America to use their education to benefit communities.

Shelly Rachanow: Why did you decide to write Change the World, Change Your Life?

Angela Perkey:  It was during my last year at the College of William and Mary. People from students to professors to senior citizens kept asking how to start a nonprofit and how they could make an impact, so that’s why I wrote the book.

Shelly Rachanow:  What’s the best way to start making a difference to help solve a world problem?

Angela Perkey:  None of us can ‘save the world’ by solving every problem out there, so because of this it’s really important to first take a step back and figure out the one or two issues that you’re most passionate about. Then you can identify how to plug in and contribute your skills and talents.

Shelly Rachanow:  How can we improve upon traditional ways of serving our communities and providing funding to charities?

Angela Perkey:  Instead of doing traditional volunteer work that might not use the unique abilities and skills that you have, think about what your natural gifts are. If you’re great at teaching young children, you can volunteer with a literacy group. If you know Spanish or another language, volunteer to help an ESL adult learn English. If accounting is your passion, help senior adults file their taxes. This multiplies the impact that your efforts can have.

Shelly Rachanow:  For people who want to start giving back, what are some easy steps they can take to begin the process?

Angela Perkey:  Reading the newspaper, watching the news, and staying up-to-date online are important so that you can know what our world’s most pressing problems are. Once you narrow all of these problems down to a couple that you’re passionate about, see if any local nonprofit organizations or churches are doing anything to make a difference in this area. Contact them and ask how you can contribute your skills.

Shelly Rachanow:  And last, the "If Women Ran the World Blog" question for everyone: What would you do if you ran the world?

Angela Perkey:  So many things! However, the first thing on my agenda would be to make sure that everyone is employed in a job that uses their skills in a productive way and also pays a wage that is fair - not too much or too little. This might seem surprising, but I believe that when people are able to contribute to society through their work, they value themselves, other people, and their communities. And with adequate compensation they can provide for their families and also give to others.

To learn more, visit Angela’s website, http://www.changetheworldchangeyourlife.com/.

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