Norfolk High grad helps form non-profit to aid students

January 11, 2019

LINCOLN — On top of student government meetings and First Husker mentoring sessions with freshmen, Jesse Casas Ferguson formed a Nebraska chapter of a nonprofit last year.

Casas Ferguson — a Norfolk High graduate and a junior studying political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — is the Nebraska executive director of Be The Change Venture, a nonprofit dedicated to helping high school students in overlooked and under-resourced areas become leaders and prepare for the professional workforce.

The nonprofit works toward that goal with workshops for high school students, a professional development portal with online resources and networking events for students and community partners.

Casas Ferguson learned about the nonprofit after he attended the Public Policy and Leadership Conference at Harvard University in February 2018.

He met Be The Change Venture’s founder, Anthony Price, at the conference. Price, a junior government and American studies double major at Wesleyan University, did not expect Casas Ferguson to form a chapter of the nonprofit after their chat, but he is grateful for his work.

Casas Ferguson said they had similar values, and Price’s nonprofit inspired him to form a chapter in Lincoln.

“Before coming to college, I learned a lot about leadership and philanthropy and had a lot of help to ensure that I had been successful,” he said. “Working here at the university with the First Husker program as a peer mentor, I really enjoyed doing that and working with students firsthand to ensure that everything I had learned … could directly benefit them.”

Price and Casas Ferguson worked together to establish the nonprofit in Nebraska. Although Be The Change Venture has other chapters in Ohio and Alabama, they had to acquire other directors and fill out different paperwork to officially become a nonprofit in Nebraska.

“We’re not re-creating the wheel,” Casas Ferguson said. “They already have the plan of their nonprofit in place … so really it’s just taking all of that and moving it to Nebraska.”

This year, the nonprofit plans to reach out to Lincoln-area schools so volunteers can work with the schools’ students, according to Casas Ferguson. They also want to establish partnerships and sponsorships with Nebraska organizations and receive donations to operate. Additionally, he said the Nebraska directors want to reach out to the refugee population.

Casas Ferguson also said they would like to recruit more volunteers — specifically more young people — so high school students will have role models closer to their age.

“(These challenges) are definitely not things we can’t overcome,” he said. “It’s going to be a process and things that you’re going to have to focus on … but focusing on that this semester and 2019, we’re definitely optimistic about it.”

Casas Ferguson said he is thankful for Price and the other Nebraska directors, and he is optimistic about the future of the organization.

“Networking or how to be successful in a professional environment is something I know,” he said. “Having the ability to teach others how to do that when it’s something critical to being successful … and being able to provide that for those who may not be able to find that anywhere else is very fulfilling.”

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