First of all, please tell our readers a bit about yourself, your education and experience?

Hello! My name is Matine Khalighi from Denver, Colorado. I am an incoming freshman at Harvard University, but I decided to take a gap year to focus on the nonprofit organization that I co-founded named EEqual. Since I was young, community has been everything for me. My parents always tried to show my brother and I the importance of giving back and caring for others. Those values have definitely carried my life’s direction and are the reason I am doing a lot of the work that I do today!

How did you first get involved in helping others?

When I was in 8th grade, I took a community service class that was centered on making a difference. This class then inspired me and my co-founder to start Helping the Homeless Colorado, a youth-led nonprofit organization. As 14 year olds, we really did not know what we were doing, but it came from a place of wanting to help and believing that we could, despite our age.

And it worked! Four years later, with the help of over 20 student leaders, we raised over $140,000, provided thousands of basic necessities to homeless people, and even financed scholarships to send homeless students to college.  It was quite the journey!

Where are you currently located?

I am currently in Denver, Colorado, but I am hopeful that I will be able to move to Boston for school next fall. I love Colorado, especially because of Denverites passion for giving back. I think that it has been a great place for EEqual’s story to begin!

Let’s first focus on the homeless. In general, how does such a situation begin?

Well we should probably take a step back; there are many different kinds of homelessness out there. For example, we have students experiencing homelessness, which could look like couch-surfing, sleeping in cars, or sometimes staying at a shelter. And then, there is the more well-known type of homelessness: people living on the streets or in shelters, particularly in urban areas with

For EEqual, our focus is student poverty and homelessness primarily because there aren’t a lot of organizations out there working to support this specific group of people. This is really because there is a complete lack of knowledge about the issue of student poverty and homelessness.

Students in public education can experience homelessness for a number of reasons. For example, it can happen to a student because they got kicked out of their parents’ house because of their intimacy orientation or their family can’t find affordable housing.

For students in school, what is a primary concern and what are some of the basic necessities that are needed to keep them in college?

Research shows that education is the most effective way to break the generational poverty cycle. So the biggest concern is these students not finishing their K-12 education or not attaining some degree of higher education. These students need help funding their higher education, while also helping them get access to resources that will help them be successful in public education.

This is why EEqual’s programs are all centered on helping these students navigate their way to higher education. So our Scholarship program for example: we finance scholarships for students in poverty who apply to our program to attain associates degrees, attend vocational or trade school, or even get education certificates.

Right now, we are in the process of piloting a micro-grant program that covers the costs that come with public education (like computers, field trip money, graphing calculators, etc.) These way students in need can start having access to the resources that they need to be successful students.

I applaud your work and efforts to get high school students into a local community college- because once there- they seem to thrive and there are internal supports. But how do we help them with the transition from high school to community college?

All of EEqual’s programs put a huge emphasis on mentorship. We really believe that these students need a friend in their corner to motivate them and help them get out of their situation. For both our scholarship program and micro-grant program, we pair students with a mentor who can really be their support system.

I, as a student who has been very lucky and have never had to worry about my education-related costs, struggled to navigate through the college admissions process. The number of variables was endless: ACT/SAT scores, Common Application, FAFSA, Activities lists, Scholarships, etc. It is simply unacceptable to expect a student who does not have access to adequate resources or support to be successful in this process. That is why providing these students with mentorship and necessary resources; we can help them get on their way to higher education.

Where can interested readers get more information? ANd where can they donate?

Yes! Please feel free to check out our website to learn more about us and our programs. In addition, because we are a youth-led organization, social media is our jam. Please follow us @EEqualNonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you would like to support EEqual please visit the “Donate” tap on our website! Also, if you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to email us at: [email protected]

Are there other organizations out there that support you?

EEqual is in our fourth month, but we have received quite a bit of support! I was actually just recognized with two awards (Prudential Spirit of Community & The Barron Prize For Young Heros) which helped raise over $13,000 for the organization.

My team and I are getting started on pitching to business for sponsorships and applying to some grants! We are so excited for what is to come.

What have I neglected to ask?

I think one thing that makes EEqual very special is that we are a for youth-by-youth nonprofit organization. All of our operations from programming, fundraising, and leadership are done by teenagers like me. At the same time, the people that EEqual is trying to support are students! So we are introducing a new “young people helping young people” dynamic into the nonprofit sector.

EEqual really is a movement that inspires young people to become advocates for their struggling peers, reinstates the power of youth philanthropy, and reminds us all of the important role education plays in our society. You know, students are our America’s most valuable resource, and we can never put a price tag on what they offer the future. We have to do everything we can to support them and help them succeed!