Over the summer, forty-five students from fourteen schools in the Ottawa County area were invited to participate in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s (OAISD) first ever “I Challenge U” competition.
“I Challenge U” partnered area businesses with student groups and mentor teachers, inviting them to tackle real-life problems faced by business owners and suggest creative solutions that could actually be implemented.
After weeks of hard work, Justice Jones’ and Chance Storm’s work for the Ottawa County United Way garnered them (and their team) first place in the competition! Each team member was awarded $750 in scholarship money as well as $250 for their high school!
Justice and Chance’s group began by examining the challenge of getting food to those in need in Ottawa County. Justice noted that working in a group with new voices had its hurdles. “It was definitely challenging to learn how to work with others on a team. Many people had very strong opinions.”
The group visited food pantries, soup kitchens, and the Holland Rescue Mission to gather ideas and information about what was already being done to help those in need of food. Interacting with community members opened their eyes to the realities many face. Yet despite hardships, Justice commented, “It’s amazing to see how people with very little still found a way to stay happy.”
The team decided that perhaps it was time for a new approach, but …“Finding data that could be helpful was difficult. It’s hard for people to open up about their needs. They don’t want to ask for help or admit that they need help feeding their families,” Chance explained.
Their creative thinking produced an award-winning idea for centralized “depots” or “superstores” like Meijer that would sell discounted food. Bridge card holders would receive a monetary allotment to shop at the depots based on income. The notion of shopping for food and making choices rather than merely accepting what was put before them, they reasoned, would create ownership and renew pride in the shopper. Their suggestion to the United Way included first opening a depot in Holland, where needs are greatest, and then following with a second store in Muskegon.
Passata explained the benefits of I Challenge U this way: “Project-based learning like I Challenge U gives kids exposure to real world, real business problems. Working this way helps students develop 21st century skills and spurs them to think critically about problem solving.”
This year six local businesses were involved in I Challenge U, but OAISD project coordinator Jason Pasatta is hoping to expand to twelve businesses and 100 students next year to give more incoming juniors and seniors a glimpse into real-world problems.
If you are a local business owner open to the idea of inviting students to participate in real-world problem solving with your business, please contact Mr. Pasatta at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how you might get involved next year.
Congratulations again to Justice and Chance for your success in I Challenge U! We are Falcon proud!