High school student Fatima Yousuf from San Jose, California has made it her mission to improve literacy rates in low-income neighborhoods. She does this through her nonprofit organization called Stories for a Future, which provides books and literacy programs to children in need. “Education is one of the biggest agents of social change and social mobility,” says Fatima, age 16. “That’s what really encouraged me to start Stories for a Future.”
When asked about her personal connection to children’s literacy issues, Fatima recalls her own childhood. “I attended a religious type of school and a lot of kids there did not learn English as their first language,” Fatima says, “so they really struggled a lot.” Fortunately, Fatima’s parents placed a high value on reading. “My parents always encouraged me to read books a lot, so I became pretty proficient in English at that age. Yet I noticed that a lot of kids weren’t.”
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By Lindsay Shaffer
Stories for a Future
As Fatima grew older, she continued to notice limited access to educational resources in low-income communities. As a passionate student herself, she wondered if there was something she could do to help. “Just living in the Bay Area we have lots of refugees and people who are first generation immigrants,” Fatima explains, “and they have a hard time learning how to read. Like I said, education is one of the biggest agents of social change. So that’s why I specifically targeted literacy.”
With a full class schedule and extra curricular activities, Fatima wasn’t sure how she would balance her own education with starting a nonprofit. Yet, she knew she wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on literacy and education in her local community. She also knew she would need a dedicated team of volunteers to help her achieve her dream.
One of the biggest obstacles Fatima faced in starting her nonprofit was overcoming her own discomfort in asking her friends to join her cause. “We’re all high schoolers and we already have lots of other stuff to do,” she says. “So I felt really bad in a way, asking other people to make the commitment. Eventually they started to see what good came out of doing charity work through Stories for a Future and they started making the commitment as well. That was a pretty big obstacle, getting people to come everyday.”
At times, Fatima doubted whether or not her dream was even possible. She didn’t know if she could start and run a nonprofit as a sophomore in high school. During these times of doubt, her mom offered support and encouragement. “After my mom saw that I was putting in the commitment and putting in the hours, she really encouraged me. So even when I was being hard on myself, she kept telling me ‘you put in so much commitment to this, you can do it.’”
Fatima’s mom was able to provide practical assistance as well. “My mom is involved in lots of non-profit work, so she helped me a lot. She guided me through the 501c3 process. She was a huge help in organizing all of this.”
Today, Stories for a Future hosts book drives and provides books to children in low-income neighborhoods. The nonprofit also sponsors a summer reading program called the Hundred Books Challenge. Every child who reads a hundred books or more at grade level receives a prize. According to Fatima, “we encourage them through prizes. So the more books they read, the more prizes they would get. We offer gift cards, certificates, medals, things like that. I think we had a pretty good turn out.”
Now an even busier junior in high school, Fatima continues to challenge herself to find new ways to contribute to her community. In the near future, Fatima hopes to expand the scope of her nonprofit by starting a tutoring program. In addition to her nonprofit work, Fatima teaches financial literacy by writing articles for a publication called Amazing Kids! Magazine. She has also recently become a member of the youth advisory council for a nonprofit organization called GenerationOn.
When asked what advice she would give to other young people who want to make a positive difference in their community, Fatima didn’t hesitate. “I would just say go for it. I mean, if you don’t feel like something is a big risk, maybe it’s not that big of a step. Every big thing that people have done over history had risk. People always had reservations about it. But if it’s something that they really want to do and they feel like they can do, then I say just go for it.”