Non-Profit Spotlight: The SMART Program – Helping Teens make Better Social Media Decisions

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Inspiration can come from anywhere. My best friend Brandon and I started volunteering at our alma mater a few years ago when a friend became the Varsity basketball coach. There was no grand plan. We were just two former high school & college athletes who decided to give some time to a group of freshman in the attempt to help them improve their hoops skills.

It is almost cliché to say that those kids changed our lives for the better, but they did. Not only did they rekindle our love for a game and a school that gave so much to us, but they led us on the path that created our Non-profit organization, the SMART program.

Out story is like so many others. Brandon and I grew up as fierce competitors and have known each other since the age of eight. Eventually, our competitive spirit was something that brought us together instead of keeping us apart. We grew up to see each other through life’s greatest joys and sorrows. Our path to adulthood was often difficult, but we were always there to see each other through it. As we took on the challenge of working with the young men at our former high school, we realized how lucky we were to have each other and live in a time where our private lives were just that. Private.

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As we began to connect with the athletes at Purcell, they wanted to friend us or follow us on social media. Being the cool, young (but still old) guys that we were, of course, accepted the friend requests. What we saw was unsettling.

As young professionals, we still remember high school. But we went to high school when it was scandalous to find someone else’s origami-folded, handwritten note. Social media was in its infancy. We chatted on AIM & put up away messages (the first status updates). We grew up as social media grew up and while we tweeted & posted photos with the best of them, we were grown and mature enough to understand and own the consequences of our actions. What we saw was the opposite.

What did we find? A viral marijuana-themed prom-posal. 14-year-olds talking about bitches and hoes and a lot of Cyber bullying. Honestly, nothing unusual or unexpected. We were saddened by what we witnessed.

These kids who were eager, young, malleable, and ultimately good kids, were posting things that they thought made them look cool in the moment. They would post inappropriate content and delete it minutes later & think that they cleaned up their mess. They had not, and no one was telling them that what they were doing was a problem. There is some truth in the statement, “The Internet is forever.”

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Do you remember being a freshman in high school? You were probably trying to figure out who you wanted to be. You made mistakes. You stumbled, and maybe even fell. The difference between you and the children of this and future generations is that you had relative privacy. You were given the luxury to find out who you wanted to be without the creation of a permanent digital record. Not only are kids today not given the option for that privacy, most don’t even want it. We saw numerous brash, shocking posts that were just phishing for likes or retweets . We like to say they have been given the keys to a Ferrari but no one has taught them how to drive.

That is where our non-profit idea was born.

The SMART program is a non-profit group that speaks to grade schools, high schools, colleges, business and more about understanding the power of social media and how they can leverage social media to help build their personal brand in a positive way. We all – regardless of age – have to understand that we are a BRAND just like McDonalds, Nike, Starbucks or any other company. Your feed is your advertising platform. What we put on social media will either positively or negatively impact how people perceive your brand and will influence their willingness to associate themselves with you.

As the age of social media users gets younger and younger, we felt a responsibility to help young people navigate what will help create their best and most positive digital footprint. Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

These words still ring true today. Our training talks focus on understanding your reach, realizing that nothing you post is ever permanently deleted, teaching people that you only get one first impression and helping people realize that you are a Brand. We deliver our message by working with CEO’s, professional athletes, college coaches, HR directors and educators to help explain how important your digital footprint has become. Much like how this guest blog came about, almost everyone who has helped us spread our message are connections made via social media. That’s just one of the great things about social media is that it allows you to connect with more people than ever before and share your story. We want to make sure that you are sharing a story you’ll be proud of in the future.

You may be wondering what happened to those first kids we talked about. We continued to coach and mentor them throughout their high school careers. We can proudly say that they are graduating and moving on to pursue dreams of college, and for some collegiate sports. While we weren’t able to solve all of their social media problems & habits, we did see improvement in their attitude towards their posts and an understanding that what they put out there has the potential to have a great impact on their lives. We hope to change the mindset of a handful of kids with every presentation we give. Our goal is to reach 1 million kids by 2025 and in just over a year we have already completed over 30 presentations and have about that many scheduled to close out 2016. We are excited to continue to make a difference in the community and impact youth across the country.

If you would like to learn more visit our website at www.smart-program.net or follow us on our social media accounts:

Website: http://www.smart-program.net/
Facebook; SMART Program
Instagram: _smartprogram
SnapChat: smartprogram
Twitter: _smartprogram
Youtube Page: Smart Program

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Learn more about the program by clicking here:

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