NEW YORK—There is a grove of quaking Aspen trees in Utah called Pando. A marvelous natural phenomenon, what appears to be an expanse of separate trees is actually a single organism connected by a massive network of roots.
Pando Projects is a nonprofit organization taking root in New York City. Pando is composed of smaller, individual projects growing all over the city. The goal is to empower people who see problems in their communities to start up their own initiatives, and work to solve them.
“Pando doesn't provide solutions—it gives people the tools to make their own,” says Milena Arciszewski, founder of Pando Projects.
Larger nonprofits do a lot of good, but Arciszewski feels that the future of activism is micro-scale initiatives, carried out at the local level by people really connected with the issue.
When she was in college she started a drive to collect books for a school in Afghanistan. She quickly realized that having an idea is one thing, putting it into action is another. She got it together, but it was “a logistical nightmare.” Arciszewski now gives others the help she wished she had.
Pando provides a mentor to people with a start-up proposal. The mentor helps in a variety of ways depending on the individual, and the idea. Pando provides a network of useful connections, a Web platform, guidance on harnessing resources, and most importantly—encouragement.
“Everybody has ideas and often people just say them in passing, but instead of just throwing around ideas, or complaining about politicians, you can actually just do something,” said Arciszewski.
Pando Projects helps aspiring leaders set concrete goals to make good ideas a reality. Each project must produce tangible results, cost less than $5,000, and span one year.
Pando has so far started 15 projects in New York City, and aspires to branch out to more projects in the city, the nation, and around the world in the years to come. Here's a taste of three of them:
A Whole Wide World Outside Chinatown
Joyce Chen and Vivian Wang started Open Sight with Pando Projects in January. Open Sight is an after school program that teaches children in Chinatown about the diverse cultures of New York City.
Wang worked as an intern for an after school program- 'A Place for Kids' stationed at P.S. 2 in Chinatown. When a student told her that the only difference he could see between China and America was that there is electricity here, she knew it was time to broaden the horizons of children in Chinatown.
Vivian’s friend Joyce Chen moved to California from Taiwan when she was 6 years old. She experienced hardships as an outsider, but she developed a deep appreciation for other cultures and now studies French and Italian at NYU. The two teamed up to bring different cultures to the classroom.
“The kids have a lot of homework help, but they've never been to the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art], they've never been to Central Park,” said Chen.
“I don't think they've eaten American food except McDonalds,” added Wang.
Chen and Wang bring together a diverse array of volunteers, from NYU frat boys to Education Theater majors, to teach the children about the Irish immigrants who came to New York during the potato famine, or about New York's urban gardens and organic sweet-potato fries, or to simply venture outside of Chinatown.
Pando provided a Web platform, an indispensable tool for getting volunteers together and for posting events. Pando also helped them to put a good idea into action, creating cross-cultural understanding between the city's youngsters.
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