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James Kwee: Profile of a Young Leader

James left his hometown in Tennessee for his first year at a New York City university. Back home and while in high school, James founded a local chapter of a non-profit organization that provides birthday gifts to underprivileged children. Now living in New York, he is trying to find new ways to continue his community work in a completely different environment.

Why We Care 

Education, financial stability and health are the building blocks for a good quality life. Remove any one of those blocks, and the other two topple. Build them all up, and we have a strong foundation for lasting change that benefits everyone. See what that looks like in your community with the interactive Common Good Forecaster:

Common Good Forecaster

See how one positive change in your community ripples outward to benefit everyone.

Common Good Forecaster

Through education, we help children and youth achieve their full potential and create a better future for us all. A high school diploma is the best economic stimulus there is: high school graduates earn more money, support their local economy, and help support the creation of new jobs and a growing tax base. They also require less government aid and get more involved in their communities. The more educated we are, the more our country thrives as a whole.

There is a direct correlation between education and health: the more educated you are, the less likely you are to develop medical complications due to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Children who grow up in healthy communities are more likely to avoid risky or dangerous behavior, such as smoking, doing drugs or dropping out of school. Better-educated people have longer life expectancy.

A focus on income means helping people achieve financial stability and independence. Students who are well-informed about financial expectations and money management skills are more likely to be prepared for cost-of-living expenses and to seek jobs that pay accordingly. Better education leads to better job opportunities and earning potential, and higher wages lead to both better access to health care and the ability to promote healthier communities

Students who live in healthy communities - where there are plenty of healthy food sources and public spaces that encourage outdoor activity - tend to be healthier people. They are better able to focus in school, have fewer sick days and perform better academically. Better health leads to better education; better education leads to better income potential and financial stability; better financial stability leads to healthier adulthood and families. 


  • What do you do?

    We mobilize our peers to make lasting community change. Student United Ways figure out what their communities most need (in education, financial stability and health), then we all work together to meet those needs. Does your nearest high school have low graduation rates? Tackle the problem in a preventative way, as a volunteer reading buddy to help young kids improve their reading skills. Research shows kids who read on grade level by 3rd grade are 90 percent more likely to graduate high school. Can’t find a volunteer reading program that helps kids in the toughest neighborhoods? Create your own! The chances are, most of you lower-income neighbors lack savings accounts. Maybe we can implement a financial literacy course. Are many children in your community uninsured? Let's start a campaign to raise awareness of insurance options. 

  • How do I start one?
    • Download this guidebook.
    • Reach out to your local United Way.  
    • Meet with your high school or college campus’s student activities staff and find out what you need to do to become an official student organization.
    • Start spreading the word.
    • Use Alternative Spring Break and the Student United Way Leadership Retreat to engage students.
    • Elect officers.
    • Register with us to become official. 
  • How does my group become official?

    Ask your local United Way adviser to fill out this registration form and submit it to student@unitedway.org. 

  • I work with a local United Way. How can I help start a Student United Way on a nearby campus? What role do I play as a United Way adviser?

    Reach out to us at student@unitedway.org to find out more and get the process started. 

  • I’m a high school or college campus staffer or community member. How do I help start a group? What is my role as campus adviser?
    • First, download the guidebook and reach out to us at student@unitedway.org to start the process.
    • Begin conversations with your local United Way staff.
    • Your role as an adviser can be created by you and your group’s student members. At a minimum, campus advisers are required to ensure the chapter meets requirements necessary to remain active on campus. Ideally, an adviser would provide guidance to help students navigate campus bureaucracy; build continuity and smooth year-to-year transitions; connect chapter leaders to campus opportunities and resources; and advocate for the group’s voice on campus and throughout the community. 
  • Are there costs involved?

    Not for students. Your local United Way might consider allotting funds to offset staff time, print materials, supplies and food for meetings and events.

    Your Student United Way, once established, can work toward being self-sufficient by receiving funding from your university and holding its own fundraising events.

  • What are you looking for in Student United Way leaders?

    You! If you’re driven enough to start or get involved with a Student United Way, we want you. If you want to make lasting change in your community, we want to help you out. Through Student United Way, we hope you’ll learn a lot and build the skills to be a better leader.

  • How much of a time commitment will it be?

    That’s up to you, your team and your advisers. How many projects do you want to do each year? How many people are interested in taking on how much responsibility? How much time will you have this semester, next semester, next year? Communicate your thoughts and work together as a team to figure out how much time you, individually, and the group, as a whole, can realistically commit. 

  • What if I want to study abroad?

    That’s great! In addition to the many benefits of studying abroad, it’s also a great opportunity to develop different ways of thinking, which you can then share with your own Student United Way. Check to see if there’s a United Way in the country where you’re studying. If so, contact them to see if you can volunteer, do an internship or even drop by to visit while you’re abroad. It’s an excellent way to broaden your view of what United Way does globally and purposefully encounter new ideas to apply to your campus leadership and community service.

  • What kind of training and support will I receive from United Way Worldwide?

    Each year, we hold a Student United Way Leadership Retreat. Student leaders, United Way staff and university advisers from around the world gather to share experiences, boost leadership and professional skills, explore their potential to create positive change in their communities, and forge lasting relationships with each other and United Way Worldwide.

    We also offer webinars and Google Hangout learning sessions. And of course, we’re here to talk with you personally: Email us at student@unitedway.org and we can set up a time to chat.

  • Are there guidelines to fundraising?

    Yes. Abide by your school’s fundraising rules and the law (obviously). Mainly, we expect you to ask your local United Way about their fundraising guidelines and follow those. Check out our “Fundraise” downloadable for more tips and information.

  • Can I participate after I graduate?

    Yes ... but not as a Student United Way leader. You can join a Young Leaders Society, an excellent group of young professionals who care. It’s a great way to engage with other young change makers and community leaders, continue making positive and lasting impacts in your community and develop your professional profile. Contact your local United Way to see if one is currently in place or if you can help start one. If you miss your Student United Way, consider serving as a mentor to the group! If you’ve found a job with the local United Way or on campus, you could become an adviser. Whatever you do, keep at it and LIVE UNITED!