Sunnyvale, CALIFORNIA — Earlier this month, Close the Gap Foundation held its annual Social Impact Fellowship Pitch Day. The much-anticipated conclusion to a three-month intensive, structured mentorship and project-based learning program brings together motivated, first-generation, low-income (FGLI) high school students with intentionally paired mentors.
This year’s Pitch Day included many firsts for Close the Gap Foundation. This year’s Fellow cohort was the largest in Close the Gap Foundation history. Triple the number of students were accepted from a pool of over 100, and triple the mentors and care were invested to match this exponentially larger cohort of FGLI students. Perhaps most notably, a $15,000 partnership with DoorDash allowed all 30 of this year’s Pitch Day presenters to receive a minimum $300 scholarship.
“I appreciate DoorDash and the whole Close the Gap family for opening so many opportunities for me. This whole program gave me confidence and the ability to create something so amazing with mentorship and guidance. This experience made my whole summer, the people I met and what I learned will forever have a special place in my heart.” — Amiya Marbles, Fellow
Several DoorDash social impact leaders lent their expertise as panelists during Pitch Day. The company recently shared their thoughts on this exciting partnership.
“DoorDash’s Community Credits program helps organizations create greater access to opportunity by reducing barriers to entry and encouraging participation in programs like this Fellowship. We're honored to have partnered with Close the Gap Foundation to support mentorship and learning through a summer of inspiring community impact projects, empowering these incredible students to reach their potential.”
In his opening remarks, Close the Gap Foundation Co-founder and President, Tai Tran, shared the transformational impact these scholarships will have on the Fellows’ lives.
“The value of showing up has been a theme of this summer. Every day that we show up, every event that we come to, every connection that we build is one step closer to success. We started Close the Gap Foundation to bridge the network and opportunity gaps as a community, but this is the first time we have been able to truly reinforce to our students that their efforts to show up in this program, no matter the outcome of their presentation, matter.”
The day began with 30 semi-finalists pitching presentations of their summer social impact project to three semi-final panelists. These industry leaders evaluated each presentation on storytelling, level of impact, and growth mindset before selecting five finalists to bring their pitches to the main stage.
This year’s Fellows were asked to build a project around a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and make an impact in their communities. All in all, nine different SDGs were represented across 30 projects, with students particularly drawn to Climate Action, Quality Education, and Reducing Inequalities.
“I have been covering the Bay Area for the last few years, and every day, I am inspired by organizations like Close the Gap that empower our youth to find their potential to do great things,” shared panelist Andre Senior, KTVU-TV Anchor and Reporter, on his participation at Pitch Day. “I was honored to be part of today’s event and I can’t wait to see the impact and changes these youth make in their communities in the coming years. I am certain they will all do big things.”
In response to the wide breadth of impact areas for their projects, Fellows were guided by their mentors and program leaders to investigate the needs of their communities and find inspiration to create change.
“As I was exploring project topics, my eyes were opened to the aid my community needed when it came to adolescent vaping. After months of hard work and dedication, the feeling of winning second place was unbelievable. Close the Gap has taught me so much over these past few months, and I have a new understanding of what it is to be a leader and have an impact on others,” recounted Fellow Valerie Henriquez.
In the end, it was the personal connections like this that inspired each project which resonated most with the panelists.
“How you each chose to define impact for yourselves and for your community and the breadth of topics and issue areas you chose to focus on because of that personal meaning will go such a long way in continuing to create impact. I know you are going to go on and lead,” affirmed panelist Collin Director.
Giving first-generation, low-income students the opportunity and support to evaluate and address the needs of their own communities is an approach to social impact that feels refreshing and meaningful.
“You all inspire us to want to make a difference in our communities and in the lives of others. Champions are champions because of the hours and work spent preparing, and each of you has demonstrated a winning mindset,” remarked panelist Sonia Sng to the Fellows.
Panelist and longtime champion of Close the Gap Foundation, Naomi Moriwaki, was particularly inspired by the power the largest cohort in Close the Gap Foundation history demonstrated in creating change.
“Because of the work you did this summer, because of 30 impact projects, the world is a better place. Individually you may make small differences in your communities, but collectively you make an immense difference in the world.” — Naomi Moriwaki, panelist
By day’s end, over $10,000 in DoorDash Growth Mindset Scholarships were awarded, with $1,000, $750, and $500 awarded to the top three projects from Fellows India Cathcart, Valerie Henriquez, and Han Nguyen.
“Close the Gap is such an inspiring program. My family hit a rough patch when COVID-19 hit, and I went from having everything to having nothing. I began to realize that there were a lot of people in my community also struggling with food insecurity, and I wanted to give back to them through my project. This scholarship will ultimately help my chance of getting into college where I hope to study law and really make change in the POC community,” shared top scholarship winner and Fellow India Cathcart.
The Close the Gap Foundation Social Impact Fellowship will continue for its fourth program in Summer 2022.
Panelists for this year’s Social Impact Fellowship Pitch Day included: Collin Director (DoorDash), Keith Fernandez (DoorDash), Sushma Kiran (Intuit), Jeff Lam (Science Breakdown), Andrea Long (DoorDash), Aaron Mitchell (Netflix), Naomi Moriwaki (Visa), Will Moriwaki (DEA), Jenny Roxas (Stanford University), Maria Salamanca (Unshackled Ventures), Andre Senior (KTVU), Sonia Sng (Airbnb), Alexandra Wison (Forbes), and Katherine Woo (Airbnb) along with members of Close the Gap Foundation’s inaugural Board of Educators: Jasmine Hobson Rodriguez, Margret Nunes, Darius Phelps, and Rhonda Price.
This year’s projects included: The Culture Behind Nigerian Food! (Diekololuwa A.), The Empathy Project in Disguise (Jarenni A.), BIA Boarding Schools in California (Jolene A.), We Are All One (India C.), Women Empowerment (Alexa C.), Global Activism (Irandy C.), Pathway 2 College (Kayleen C.), Notes for your Mental Health (Deysi D.), Green Thumbs for Earth (Teresa D.), Quit the Vape (Valerie H.), Free Period (Tina H.), Operation Healthacy (Vanessa H.), Cooking 4 Closure (Patricia I.), High School Starter Pack (Mirka J.), Cultural Exchange Fest (Sarat’ika K.), Basic Financial Health (Jasmine L.), STEMshops Program (Vy L.), Eco Rawr (Amiya M.), Tackling Technological Illiteracy (Ruby M.), Ther Personal Nutritionist (Katelyn N.), Financial Freedom (Han N.), Poverty in My City (Maria O.), College Crunch Time (Sukhman S.), Appreciation of Latine/x Culture (ALC) (Jennifer S.), Our Neighborhood Clean-Up (Jazmin T.), Throo a New Lens (Kathy T.), Save n’ Spend Smartly! (Monica V.).
About Close the Gap Foundation
Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. Founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income youths, Close the Gap Foundation works to empower first-gen, low-income students to build lifelong confidence and reach their fullest potential. Close the Gap Foundation Close the Gap Foundation’s President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.
About the Social Impact Fellowship Program
Close the Gap Foundation’s flagship program, the Social Impact Fellowship, is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps first-generation, low-income high school students find mentors, grow their confidence, and give back. Through structured mentorship and project-based learning, Fellows work with mentors from renowned organizations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and UCSF to tackle a self-directed social impact project to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.
To learn more about Close the Gap Foundation, visit www.closethegapfoundation.org.
To learn more about their annual Social Impact Fellowship Program, visit www.closethegapfoundation.org/program/fellowship.
Media contact: firstname.lastname@example.org