My Carolina Experience: Jake Bernstein
Zoya Johnson, GoHeels.com
Jake Bernstein, a member of the UNC men's fencing team, is a student-athlete who takes Carolina's outreach potential to another level. In 2009, at just 15 years old, he and his sister Simone started their own non-profit site. The site, then called StLouisVolunteen.com, was dedicated to helping teens find volunteer opportunities in St. Louis, Mo.
They created the site in an effort to give teens a more accessible and central source for their needs as volunteers, since most of the available options catered to people 18 and up.
That venture was so successful that the two went on to create VolunTEENation.org, which now helps teens all over the country to find volunteer opportunities in their area. The site has grown from one that simply listed the opportunities in an area to one that has over 8,000 opportunities across the nation. VolunTEENation.org also gives users the ability to access grant and scholarship listings.
If the success of VolunTEENation.org isn't enough to make the Bernstein siblings notable in your book, in 2012 Simone and Jake Bernstein were named to the Forbes "Top 30 under 30" Social Entrepreneurs List. The two made the cut for the prestigious list alongside names like Lady Gaga and LeBron James and all of this was accomplished before Jake hit 20.
Since setting foot on campus, Bernstein's drive to help those in need and those without equal opportunity has only been fueled by the potential of the Carolina community.
"The resources available in Chapel Hill for aspiring entrepreneurs are really fantastic," says Bernstein. "I'm working on a project with three friends - we are building the first online giving website through e-commerce."
That project is a website, still in the works, called CommuniGift.com. The site is based on the targeted giving concept that provides people in need things they would normally go without were it not for the help of volunteers or concerned contributors. The site will make giving easy, meaningful and more overarching than ever before by giving the visitor a chance to read about a family, give a gift, and then stay in touch.
Since walking on to the Carolina fencing team in his freshman year, Bernstein has been able to utilize Carolina Outreach to foster even more connectivity between athletics and the community.
"Sports are a fantastic way to bring students and community members together," Bernstein says. "Sports camps with differently-abled kids represent a great way to promote an inclusive, healthy and safe environment. Kids of different ages and all abilities are able to relate to sports. Being a Tar Heel athlete also provides a platform to connect with community members and lead outreach projects.
"Last year, I worked with local autism organizations and Carolina Outreach athlete volunteers to help lead a basketball and fencing clinic. We were able to bring together 50 kids and 50 athletes to offer kids a one-on-one sports clinic for kids on the autism spectrum."
Another incredible opportunity Bernstein has become a part of this year is the Chancellor's Student Innovation Team. This group, which helps to shape programs and policies as part of Carolina's Innovation Initiative, meets monthly to discuss projects and solicit feedback from other students. It has given Bernstein another space outside of athletics and the classroom to connect with even more amazing Carolina students.
With so much going on in Bernstein's life, athletics provides not only a built-in support system and friends but acts as a centerpiece of stability. Thanks to the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy, athletics also provides him with the tools to grow in all aspects and under many circumstances.
"The fencing team has certainly been a positive influence on my college experience," he says. "The senior leadership on our team has helped me grow - they did a fantastic job of keeping the team atmosphere positive. I gained so much this past year as part of the Rising Stars program in the Leadership Academy. In addition to helping me develop as a leader, the team has provided a network of friends that have shaped my experience in college."
As a student who came in with a notable story and a vision for change, the fact that Bernstein's story as a student-athlete is not only one of success but one of progress speaks to the opportunities the campus and community have the ability to provide.
"Coming into UNC, my primary goal was for high achievement in the classroom," says Bernstein, who is spending the summer in San Francisco, working as a software engineering intern. "Upon walking on to the fencing team, I set my sights on improvement. UNC has offered a clear path to help achieve my goals. I strive to achieve these goals every day, and I continue to set new goals based on the opportunities UNC offers. "
Bernstein's experience speaks to the ability of the people in the Carolina family to come together in so many different ways in order to make great things happen.