Understand That Passion Is Infectious. One of the most important things I have learned throughout the years is to be bold when letting others know about the work that you are doing. It can be intimidating to speak to strangers about what you are doing or present to large groups of people, but it is actually so valuable! When people can see you and feel your passion, they want to support you!
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matine Khalighi, an incoming first-year student at Harvard University. Ever since Matine was a child, he has always been passionate about helping others. This led him to found a nonprofit as an 8th grader. Four years later, Matine serves as the Executive Director of EEqual, a 501(c) youth-led nonprofit, raising 100,000+ dollars for students in need. Matine has been featured on TV, People Magazine, ABC News and has won the President’s Volunteer Service Award 3x.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
Yes of course! Well, I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. When I was young, my parents always encouraged me to be involved in my community. My family would always do community service projects together during the weekends.
I think this heavy emphasis on service was mostly inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i religion, which I had grown up in and have helped shape the person I am today!
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
In 8th grade, I took a community service class that was centered around making a difference in community. For my project, I raised 1,000 dollars for a local foster care center. The center then invited me to go meet the kids who would benefit from my efforts. That experience really showed me that I, even as a middle schooler, could make a difference, and I wanted to do more to make an impact!
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
EEqual is a 501(c)3 youth-led nonprofit organization dedicated to leveling the playing field for students experiencing poverty. We invest in the education of students in extreme poverty or experiencing homelessness through scholarships and mentorships.
Over 1.3 million students in our national public school system are experiencing homelessness. These students, undoubtedly, do not have the same access to resources in education than their more affluent peers. By providing the opportunity for these students to attain higher education, we are helping them break the cycle of poverty.
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
It must have been my sophomore year of high school when I learned a statistic that completely changed my perception of homelessness. I was doing some research and came across the number 22,000. That was the number of students experiencing homelessness in my state’s (Colorado) K-12 public school system. I remember being so taken aback from learning this. Students, just like myself, potentially even in my own school, experiencing homelessness?!
It was wrong and, from my past experiences, I knew I could make an impact even though I was young, so I decided to figure out what I could do to help!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think I am always fascinated by the scholars our organization has been able to support. Through our scholarship awards program, we cover the cost of tuition for students experiencing homelessness to attain higher education. We recently brought in a student named Ruby Star into our program. On the outside, and in her day to day life, nobody would even realize that she is experiencing homelessness.
I think that really goes to show how many students could be flying under the radar as far as their situation and this makes it really easy for us to not even know that there is a problem.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Yes, so as I shared before, Ruby Star is one of the scholars in our program. She is currently a community college student in Colorado with the dreams of becoming Physician Assistant. We actually just filmed a short film about her life.
In this film, she shares her experiences as a refugee, losing both of her parents at a young age, and having to call her car her home. As she speaks on these events, she explains how she refuses to give up on the one thing that she can control in her life: her education.
I am so glad that our organization has been able to support her during her higher education journey.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
“Making A Difference,” in my opinion, has everything to do with one’s willingness to find a problem and use whatever resources available to them to help mitigate the effects of that issue. People who strive to “make a difference,” are optimistic about the future of our society and believe that any challenge we currently face can be solved if we worked together.
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Ask The People You Are Trying To Help What They Need
My story really started with recognizing there was a problem and taking the time to learn about the issue. First, I would strongly recommend that every person who is interested in making an impact seeks out a problem and takes the time to learn about the issue you are hoping to make an impact in. I spent hours interviewing people experiencing homelessness and learning about their struggles to then find out how I can be helpful.
2. Be Confident In Your Abilities
Time and time again, I have been told that my ideas are “optimistic” or “cute” because of my age. Unfortunately, some people will underestimate what you are capable of because of your age. My best advice is to just ignore them and be confident in you and your abilities.
3. Find People Who Actually Support You
Building off of my previous advice, look for people in your life who would actually be excited to support you and look to them for guidance. I have found that my teachers have sometimes been my best advisors in helping to take my organization off the ground.
4. Understand That Passion Is Infectious
One of the most important things I have learned throughout the years is to be bold when letting others know about the work that you are doing. It can be intimidating to speak to strangers about what you are doing or present to large groups of people, but it is actually so valuable! When people can see you and feel your passion, they want to support you!
5. The Worst Thing They Can Say Is “No”
In the beginning, my biggest fear was centered around what was going to happen when I made the ask. I remember always being nervous when presenting pitch contests, talking to new donors, or asking people to support EEqual. Then I started to take to heart the idea that the worst thing that anyone can say is “no” and you have to approach someone new!
What are the values that drive your work?
Inclusivity, Empathy, and Understanding.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
For me, the biggest thing is constantly checking in with the population I am trying to support and trying not to get disconnected from them and their needs. I call the scholars in our program from time to time to see how they are doing and ask them questions about how EEqual can be doing more to support them.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
A world composed of thriving communities. I envision a world where people can work together as a community to solve the challenges that they face. Building community is so incredibly powerful because it allows each of us, as humans, to start thinking more in the context of “we” not “me.” In this world, each of us embrace the fact that we are truly connected and that working together and being helpful to one another can help us all move forward and overcome any obstacle.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
I truly believe that education is foundational, and one’s economic background should not dictate their ability to access a quality education. I would use all of the resources at my disposal to help give every student the ability to simply go to school. It is both valuable for them and for the future of our society.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
As I have mentioned before, the reason that I got so involved in my work with EEqual was because of my involvement in a community service class in middle school. I think requiring community involvement centered courses in our education system would be a huge benefit for a lot of students because it allows them to learn a lot about their community and apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life situations.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Go for it! Especially during times like these it is critical that everyone, no matter how old one is, to be involved in making an impact in your community. Do not get so focused on the numbers or how big the need is. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Well, I just finished the book “So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, and it was a book that I could not put down when I was reading it. Systemic racism is a huge problem in this country and learning how people from all races can contribute to dismantling our racial divide was truly fascinating.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Yes! Please feel free to check out our website www.EEqual.org to learn more about us and our programs. In addition, because we are a youth-led organization, social media is our jam. Please follow us @EEqualNonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you would like to support EEqual please visit the “Donate” tap on our website! Also, if you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to email us at: [email protected]
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!