A curbside compost pickup service created by Pasadena high school students won this year’s Dragon Kim Foundation Challenge event that encourages SoCal youths to engage in community service.
Three student-finalist teams competed in the “Shark Tank”-style competition on Sept. 24 at the Webb Theatre on the campus of the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California, in front of a virtual public and three esteemed judges.
The judges chose South Pasadena High School students Patrick Latting and Liam deVilla Bourke as the winners in the partially live, partially recorded Zoom event.
Robyn Williams, one of the event’s judges and CEO of ChoiceCenter Leadership University, announced the winners of the $5,000 prize.
Compost Culture’s idea is “the one that stands out for us with a real long-term and sustainable and needed solution,” Williams said, congratulating the pair.
The Finalists Share the Stage
Compost Culture collects biodegradable scraps and composts them every Sunday in a South Pasadena garden. The pair also hold online workshops to teach people about composting.
The team has engaged 236 participants, collected 1,780 pounds of compost, and raised over $2,400 with their service.
With their winnings, the group plans on franchising the service to other cities.
“We’re actually going to bring in people through internship programs or environmental clubs in other schools and have them handle their own city,” Latting said at the ceremony.
Ella Beyer and Leilani Rodriguez created Fostering the Arts, one of the runners-up. The two attend the Musical Theater Conservatory at the California School of the Arts San Gabriel Valley in Duarte.
Fostering the Arts brings music and movement to children in foster care facilities. The duo have made interactive videos for the children, and have performed for 40 houses, fire stations, and hospitals.
“Leilani and I met through our musical theater. We go to California School of the Arts and we’re used to performing together. And so we have that foundation, of course,” Beyer said at the event.
“Even through a Zoom call, you can build partnership and you can build connection … with the foster kids. A screen can’t prohibit human connection—human connection flows, no matter where you are or how far away you are, and no matter the age difference. And so, we build our connection, despite the circumstances.”
The other finalist was Hip Hop Workshop, created by Nathan Solomon, a recent graduate of Laguna Beach High School, along with University High’s James Koga.
The two hosted an in-person hip-hop workshop at the Orange County Rescue Mission for middle school boys, a weeklong Zoom workshop for adults with intellectual disabilities, and a national poetry competition with the theme “What Matters to You.”
“I started to use rap and lyrics as a cathartic moment for me, to really dump all of my feelings out without lashing out on social media,” Koga said.
“We got to share how rap poetry and self-expression is a powerful asset … to form communities, connections, and bonds.”
The Dragon Kim Foundation
Irvine-based Daniel Kim and his wife, Grace, founded the competition as a way to honor their son, Dragon, who was killed by a falling tree branch in Yosemite National Park in 2015.
While attending the Orange County School of the Arts, Dragon became determined to support underprivileged children in Santa Ana by providing them with a means of learning music. His parents decided to carry on Dragon’s legacy by creating the foundation in his honor, to support high school kids who want to help their community flourish.
The Dragon Challenge is the finale of the Dragon Kim Fellowship program. The foundation also offers a music program, based on Dragon’s desire to provide musical instruments for underprivileged youths, and a scholarship program.
“We’re here today to celebrate 51 amazing student leaders and their projects,” Daniel Kim said at the finale.
He called the fellowship program “a community service, social entrepreneurship incubator” that provides “intensive leadership training.”
The foundation provided participants with “real-world mentors with incredible experience, who helped them plan their projects, and we provide funding, up to $5,000, to execute their projects,” Kim said.
“But most of all, what I like to think that the foundation does is that we challenge these young leaders to challenge themselves, to really step up and be the leaders that they can, and you’ll see, boy, do they do they stand up to that challenge.”
Grace Kim credited the 51 teenagers who submitted 23 projects with persevering through difficult conditions and delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have to credit these teenagers, whose hearts hurt for our world, and found empathetic and creative ways to reach out to their COVID-ravaged communities, where people couldn’t buy hand sanitizer in the store,” said Grace Kim.
She said participants turned their kitchens into science labs to help other people by bottling hand sanitizer for the community, sang virtual concerts for the lonely and elderly, and delivered meals to hungry Orange County citizens that couldn’t leave their homes.
“After months of planning, they took the bad news in stride and learned to pivot. And in the end, they found incredible ways to serve the world,” Grace Kim said.
Advice for Future Leaders
Along with Williams, the event was judged by Orange County philanthropist Mohamed El-Erian, the chief economic adviser for Allianz, along with Jonathan Levin, dean of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
At the event, El-Erian said leadership is “about resilience, the ability to be punched in the face and get back up quickly.”
“It’s about agility, the ability to react, and it’s about an open mindset. Having the willingness to know that there’s no way you can know the whole road ahead, but what you need to do is take a few steps and be open to ideas,” El-Erian said.
“And there’s nothing that helps you better. You have to do that, then have a high degree of what we call ‘cognitive diversity’ around you, people from different cultures, the centers from different experiences, so that you can think.”
Levin said that leadership is about “understanding the difficulties that people around you might be having coping with uncertainty and disruption,” while at the same time “trying to instill confidence and goodwill and optimism in them.”
Williams said effective leadership requires “practicing and learning to pivot on a daily basis.” She said leaders need vision, resilience, and a “relentless, unstoppable purpose” to succeed.
In closing, the event’s emcee, Spectrum News 1 reporter Zack Tawatari, acknowledged something Daniel Kim told him that he said he continues to think about “to this day.”
“[Kim] said, ‘What is it that you can do to change your corner of the world?’” Tawatari said.