How I Started an Organization at 15 (and You Can, Too!)

In 2012, I launched an organization that changed my life forever, called The Face of Cancer. At that time, I was 15 years old and unprepared for the adventure it would take me on. This article was not written with the intention of promoting The Face of Cancer, though you can visit our website here. Instead, if you are a teen with a passion and a purpose towards a cause greater than your own, you can be empowered to create your own organization through what I call the "4 P's."

1. Passion

In any service project, passion is necessary. The Face of Cancer was inspired after my mother and my sister's battles (and victories!) with cancer. I knew that I had a passion and an overwhelming desire to help others, but the pieces did not all fit together until both Jayden and my mother's journeys with cancer. There, I was able to develop genuine empathy towards people affected by cancer. You see, before, I always heard stories of the disease; whether it was through the St. Jude's commercials I'd constantly see on television or the infamous novel A Sister's Keeper. However, I didn't know what to say to a cancer patient until it became a part of my life. Thus, my passion for a support system and mentorship for cancer patients took flight, and The Face of Cancer was conceived.

If you have a passion towards something, congratulations! You are already on the first step to creating a successful organization. Do not put a limit on your passions. Whether you are a harp player, a football star, an actress, a writer or a teenager endowed with the ability to think differently from the rest of the crowd, you can use what makes you YOU to change the world. Nothing bothers me more than when teachers and counselors suggest generic community service ideas to every single ambitious high school student that walks through their door. While I'm sure they mean well, we were made for so much more! What's wrong with typical community service, though I do not doubt places like the animal shelter and elderly homes need help, is that the majority of students are not passionate about these projects. Their service ends as quickly as they get their hours crossed off and they enter college. In order to prepare for a life of intentional service and dedication towards the global community, a willingness to work with your endowed passions is necessary.

2. Patience

Like I've noted before, The Face of Cancer has been in existence since 2012. However, it has not been a crystal staircase filled with happiness, endless joy and carelessness. In order to see success, you must be willing to be patient. I had to wait two years before I was able to grow The Face of Cancer's staff, and we have a long journey ahead full of waiting. But, one thing I can promise you: it WILL pay off. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your passions spring to life. Just like Walt Disney said, "Even miracles take a lot of time." Be patient, but also be hopeful. You're already further down the path than the millions of people who abandon their dream out of fear.

3. Plan

'A dream without action is just sleep,' so it's up to you to make a plan for your nonprofit organization. What services will you offer? Who will be on your team? Another vital aspect of this step is budgeting. How much money will it take to fund your services, and where will that money come from? Now, don't be discouraged! This is the step that is often overlooked, but it is truly necessary in the development of an organization. Often, bigger nonprofits offer grants that help smaller nonprofits begin their organization. The Do Something Seed Grant offers a $500 seed grant each week to a nonprofit organization that stands out above the crowd. Do your research, and you might find your implausible idea easier to achieve than what you thought.

4. Persistence

One of the most common things I hear when I tell people that I am the founder of an organization is "You're so young!" often followed with a rude remark or a sarcastic comment. One of the greatest challenges of founding a service project is that you will be looked at like you're crazy, at times belittled and not everyone will take you seriously. But take heart! Having a spirit of resilience is essential in everything you do -- whether you decide to create a nonprofit, government ordained organization or you're looking for your dream career. Be persistent with people -- don't take no for an answer! Don't wait for people to "follow up" with you about a possible partnership or opportunity, be the initiator of change!

Don't let your dream start and end with this article. You have the opportunity to change the world around you using your unique abilities. Let's change the reputation teenagers have as the lazy, unmotivated and selfish generation by using what makes us awesome to make the world a brighter place. Dream big, but do bigger!