As a junior in college, Josh Collins ’07 tested his conviction that high school students make great volunteers: He enlisted 20 of them to assist at a Special Olympics competition. But he didn’t realize the full extent of his success until one of them called two weeks later and asked, “When is the next event?”
“I got excited by their passion for service,” Josh says. “Kids don’t get sidetracked or easily discouraged. They’re uniquely equipped to handle social injustices because they’re passionate about addressing needs. They still have the mind set that things can change.”
Josh got the idea of connecting students to opportunities in 2005 when he managed volunteers for the Greater Twin Cities United Way. The next year in his marketing class at Westmont, Josh proposed creating a foundation that gets students involved in the community. The professor praised the idea and urged its implementation. When Josh looked into establishing a non-profit organization, he learned that the cost to file for 501(c)3 status would increase substantially in two weeks. He hurriedly labored over the paperwork and completed it in time. The Student Volunteer Foundation (SVF) was incorporated in June 2006 and received 501(c)3 status just two months later.
Busy with his triple major (communication studies, economics and business, and social science), Josh did little with SVF until after he graduated. He never expected it to become his full-time job. Moving to New York City in 2008, he developed a business plan for SVF and started raising money from individuals and family foundations. Later that year he launched both SVF and StudentVolunteer.com in Minneapolis, where he now lives. The primary purpose of SVF is to break down barriers that keep students from volunteering, especially by providing grants of any amount to those who demonstrate they’re meeting needs in their community.
StudentVolunteer.com, the creative engine that supports SVF, is an interactive, online tool that allows students to get connected to volunteer opportunities and have their service tracked on the first-ever Certified Volunteer Resume™. Students can submit this resume to meet community service requirements at their school or attach it to their college applications.
“It’s important that youth develop the mentality of serving others at a young age and integrate it into their life,” Josh says. “I want StudentVolunter.com to be the Facebook of volunteering, to make service fun and interactive so kids can see the true potential and impact of giving back.”
At-risk youth dropout rates are soaring, but studies have shown that the more involved students are in the community or extracurricular activities, the more productive, engaged and successful they become in academics. “My organization exists to give youth ownership of their ideas and aspirations about finding solutions to significant world issues and uses technology as a tool to help give them a voice,” Josh says.
“Running a nonprofit is more work than I ever expected, and I don’t always know what I’m doing,” Josh says. As founder and executive director, he serves in a variety of roles, including creating and editing the SVF Web site, raising funds, applying for grants, developing the budget, managing employees and doing marketing. “I’ve surrounded myself with good people who can advise me.” Josh says. “I love what I do, and I’m passionate about inspiring youth to serve those who are less fortunate.”