Sneakerheads and Politicos

Monday, June 30th, 2014 @ 10:56AM

We’re always delighted to bring you stories of what current JSA student leaders are up to. This story from Chicagoland is one of hard work and generosity, and just one example of what true statesmanship looks like. JSA helps students become more thoughtful, confident and articulate, but this story brings us an example of how JSA fosters creativity, kindness and altruism as well.

This story starts with sneakers.

It might be a little-known fact to the broader U.S. population, but meeting up to trade and sell sneakers is a favorite pastime for many young Americans. Naren Akurati, JSA Chapter Vice President at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois, is closely affiliated with the sneakerhead community, and he and some JSA friends are involved in the sneaker trade in their area—small weekend meet-ups where students gather to hang out and make trades. About a year ago, they decided it could evolve into something bigger.

A few Vernon Hills chapter members gather at conventionThey applied their skills and network to organize the area’s first-ever sneaker convention, “JSA Got Sole,” which sought to attract local sneaker buffs and channel a niche interest for a greater good. They charged for entry and for those who wanted a booth, deciding that funds raised could be split between their chapter and a local nonprofit. But the event netted more than expected. They donated about $1,000 to their local food bank and kept the other half for their chapter. It still seemed like too big a windfall.

“Our chapter didn’t need that much money,” Naren says simply, without pretension. “We calculated how much we’d need to pay for pizza days and other activities, and we knew that we could afford to take out $500 at the end of the year.”

Misha Bogdanov, their Chapter President, gathered his executive committee to discuss the surplus.

JSA’s Vernon Hills chapter is relatively young, but in the last three years, they’ve become a vibrant part of their school community and of the JSA Midwest State. Nearly 70 members strong (and growing), Vernon Hills is consistently poised to break records for the largest delegation to Midwest conventions. The chapter could have thrown an end-of-year party or ordered branded sweatshirts, but they didn’t. Instead, they quietly made a donation to the Junior Statesmen Foundation with the intention of sponsoring a portion of a student’s JSA Summer School tuition. A student from another high school.

“Morton West has some of the most dedicated JSA students I know,” said Naren. Misha adds that Morton West—a high school about 40 miles from Vernon Hills, on the Western border of Chicago—recently won JSA Midwest Chapter of the Year for their community activism and statesmanship. “They’re so committed to JSA,” says Misha. “And our chapter is lucky in that we don’t have to struggle to fundraise. We knew that some of their students wanted to go to JSA Summer School and that some wouldn’t be able to. So we said, ‘Let’s help them out.’”

Naren and Misha are both JSA Summer School graduates themselves, having attended the program at Stanford last summer. “It developed me as a speaker and leader,” says Misha. “The people you meet at JSA Summer School are incredible and come from all walks of life. I don’t think I can properly find the words to express how much the experience meant to me, because it still blows my mind. I wish everyone could attend—that’s why the decision to make this donation was so easy.”

Naren adds that his summer school experience wasn’t a crash course in the strict rules of formal debate as he expected; instead, he learned more about conversation and collaboration than he ever could have guessed. Because of this nuanced approach, the program “made me a better speaker overall,” he says, “and a better person.”

Naren and Misha will spearhead the Vernon Hills chapter again next year, and they’re committed to investing in activism more than ever. “That’s what JSA is really about,” says Misha. “Becoming a better citizen. Becoming a better member of your community.”

So who got the scholarship?

JSA’s Midwest Program Director and the Teacher-Advisors for both high schools worked together to route the gift, which would eventually be awarded to a devoted JSA’er who had already received merit aid from the Junior Statesmen Foundation. She raised a significant portion of the remaining tuition from her own community, but still found herself falling short. Until the gift from Vernon Hills came through, it didn’t look like she would make it.

This Sunday, she stepped off the plane in California after all, and headed to Stanford.

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1 Comment to "Sneakerheads and Politicos" add comment
Scott Miller
July 1, 2014 at 4:26 am

This kind of activity is one of the many that keep me engaged with JSA. Hat’s off to the JSA’ers at Vernon Hills.