Alex Brown, a middle school principal in Reading, PA, supports youth through his vocation on a daily basis. But for the past several years, this volunteer hero has taken his impact a step further by inspiring youth through the organizations VOiCEup and Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading (YVCR).
Alex has been a VOiCEup board member for four years and for the last two has also become a very active adult adviser to the youth-driven YVCR initiative called Stand Together Against Racism (STAR). Launched in 2020 by a group of local students to address racism and injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, STAR has since grown into a budding national youth movement.
As a STAR advisor, Alex supports this youth-driven work by encouraging new project ideas, lending guidance to new youth initiatives and ultimately inspiring and elevating the voices of these young social justice advocates. Under his quiet and humble guidance, the STAR initiative has grown from a small Zoom gathering with 27 students to an expanding team of passionate youth who engage hundreds of people annually in initiatives and projects supporting racial equity.
“As a VOiCEup board member, my role is multi-layered and includes a variety of tasks to support our mission and programming,” Alex shared. “I vote on specific volunteer projects for our organization to facilitate, while also actively participating in such projects. As a member of our organization’s Program Committee, I assist in the development of some volunteer opportunities while also overseeing the programs that are running.”
And the projects Alex is involved with are certainly making an impact. Last year, the team engaged 594 youth in 6,279 hours of service, filling community needs through projects ranging from volunteering at homeless shelters and cleaning parks to leading DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) projects, advocating for menstrual equity and more. Over the past six years, Youth Volunteer Corps programs have cumulatively engaged 1,500+ unduplicated youth in more than 25,000 hours of community service to Berks County, PA.
“After George Floyd’s passing, as an organization, we felt we had a platform and an obligation to do something beyond what was going on with peaceful protests in a lot of parts of the country,” Alex reflected. “We decided to create a series of six virtual engagements in the summer, and thought that might stir the pot a little bit. But the momentum that was created with the kids evolved into the STAR organization and the formation of student groups.”
STAR now has affiliates throughout the country and in Canada, and Alex helps advise these affiliates on their programs, based on his experience. A documentary was filmed about the STAR program, which has won a couple of awards at independent film festivals.
“We certainly felt that we could magnify the message through the youth, rather than the typical adult rhetoric,” Alex shared. “When kids speak in a room full of adults, believe it or not, they tend to get the attention.”
Last summer, three YVCR students were chosen by the National Youth Volunteer Corps organization to sit on an International Youth Advisory Board. As part of this role, they worked with other students from around the country and Canada on projects and lent their voices to the national YVC organization. They served one full year in this national leadership position.
Multiple YVCR students have won prestigious awards, including the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award from The Berks County Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a Berks Best in Community Service award from The Reading Eagle and the Mujer de Mujer Young Changemaker Award from the Women2Women organization.
“In my role as a building principal, what I try to preach to my teachers is that as adults, we don’t have to be the ones in control,” Alex said. “We have some networking bridges we can help the kids with, but really our role is to support the kids and 99% of the work we do is the brainchild of our youth. We as adults are just there as support systems, connecting them to different people and organizations.”
Indeed, some of the program’s former youth have now gone on to expand their impact in their universities and beyond. The STAR program has helped set them up for greater success, and their involvement in the organization has even set them apart from other applicants in the interview processes for highly competitive schools.
“Giving the kids the platform and support is all that is needed to make the difference we all want,” said Alex. “It is an overwhelmingly exhilarating experience to witness the work of our youth, and to play a small part of this journey is priceless”
Alex encourages anyone thinking about volunteering to jump in without hesitation. He says, “There’s nothing magic about it. If you have that volunteer itch, scratch it! It doesn’t matter what cause it is. Volunteering is so rewarding. It’s something special – it’s so authentic and it comes from a great place, which is an individual’s heart. You should never think any volunteer opportunity is too small. It can grow into something huge. STAR started on Zoom screens when we couldn’t meet in person, and now we’re speaking to people in Canada and across the country. Don’t let any barrier, whatever it may be, stop you.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Alex? Find local volunteer opportunities.