What would happen if you empowered 1,400 young people to change their lives - lift all the barriers and allow them to do whatever they wanted?
Well that's exactly what happened with the Choose2Matter team came to Estherville Lincoln Central Thursday to tell students they could do just that. Assisted by student mentors, the team helped students identify the barriers in their paths and how to overcome them.
Led by Angela Maiers, Iowa native, nationally renowned speaker and veteran educator, Choose2Matter opened a lot of eyes - and hearts.
Kids showed enthusiasm at the message of empowerment at the Choose2Matter event at Estherville Lincoln Central on Thursday.
"Bravery is a choice," said Maiers, a theme echoed throughout the day. "Brave is hard. Brave is strong. Brave is really, really uncomfortable. We are asking and expecting you to feel uncomfortable today."
That was when Maiers offered her message of empowerment.
"We're going to expect you to dream audaciously today," said Maiers. "I want you to ask the fiercest questions you have been up until this point afraid to ask."
Maiers also challenged students to not let others stop their dreams.
"When someone says, 'That's impossible, you're just one person' . . . I say, 'Whew, maybe I can do this'."
But that wouldn't be easy, said Maiers.
"You need to understand that fear is a condition for bravery," said Maiers. "Every single one of you matters, but only if you choose to be brave. You can be courageous or you can be comfortable but you cannot be both. You have to choose."
Maiers also spoke of the creative power of one's own genius.
"You are a genius and the world needs your contribution," said Maiers. "Say this often. Say it repeatedly. And say it until you believe it."
Maiers offered a roadmap for the day's activities.
"You must own your genius and share your genius," said Maiers. "The problems we are going to tackle today are gigantic. We are going to help you talk about your own genius. You are also going to recognize others' geniuses."
Maiers said students would also share their stories.
"Whatever matters to you matters to us," said Maiers. "When you tell your story you give people permission to tell their story. What matters to you and what breaks your heart are the two most important questions we're going to answer today."
"There are a lot of people that might be discouraging you from trying to be brave," said Mark Moran, corporate lawyer and online research expert.
Moran echoed former President John F. Kennedy who said the problems of the world can't be solved by skeptics or cynics and that people need to dream.
"No matter what you decide to do to change the world, you're going to hear from critics," said Moran, citing another President, Teddy Roosevelt, "The people who count are the ones who try."
Moran spoke of a friend, John Moran, New York City firefighters who was just getting off shift when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. The firefighter leaped from his car and ran into the building, saying, "I am going to make a difference here today."
As a result, 12,000 people got out of the buildings because of John Moran and other firefighters who died saving them.
The group then heard from Gen. John Michel directly from Afghanistan.
"You can make an amazing difference in the world," said Michel. 'It all starts with one person. You're that next generation of world changers. We need people with the courage to step forward with new ideas."
Michel said he didn't matter whether a person was a soldier or teacher of someone else - making a difference takes courage.
After the opening presentation, students went to designated areas for "heartbreak mapping" sessions based on three questions:
n What matters most to you, and why?
n What breaks your heart about it?
n What are WE going to do about it?
Students then recorded their ideas and made "heartbreak maps" then faculty, staff and community members facilitated heartbreak mapping. Students then worked on action plans in four areas: social justice/human rights, education, environment/animal rights and health and wellness, followed by a closing at day's end.
For fourth-graders, bullying seemed to be a key focus.
Eli Kilgore, fourth grade, said their group learned that bullies are themselves heartbroken about something and they want others to feel their pain. Eli said what he learned Thursday will help him deal with bullies later.
"Sometimes in school I get bullied so I want to help the world change that," he said.
Desean Hoffman, also in fourth grade, said people should stop bullying others in school.
"If you see someone getting bullied, stand up for them," he said.
Felicity Rose, also fourth grade, agreed.
"I learned how if like someone's bullying you, you can stand up to them and say things."
The next time someone bullies her, she'll tell that person to stop and, if necessary, go talk to adults about it.
Guadalupe Castillo, fourth grade, said if she see sees someone getting bullied, she'll tell the bully to stop. If she sees it happen again, she'll tell the teacher.
Anthony Rivera, fourth, said he learned he could make a big difference in the world - and that even kids could do that.
He said when he went home Thursday night he would tell his parents that he was able to do anything he wanted to make the world a better place.