LeadYoung Initiative Week 1: Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams

Ashoka LeadYoung Initiative

Welcome to week one of our five-week mini-series on changemakers. We’re partnering with Ashoka and its LeadYoung initiative to syndicate the stories of teenagers and young adults from around the world who have identified real, systemic problems and taken it upon themselves to put into place solutions.

Think you know a young changemaker who deserves to be featured not only on the Eagle, but on a nationwide scale? Reach out to Editor-in-Chief Sam Bisno at [email protected]

We hope that these stories inspire you to make a change of some sort, no matter on what scale. Thank you.

-The Eagle editorial team

Today’s world is fast. It’s connected. It’s unpredictable and uncertain. But it’s also full of possibilities. Joshua’s story is more than the story of one young person leading young. It is the story of creating a culture and a pathway to help thousands of young people know they have the power to change their world.

Joshua Williams, now 17, was four and a half years old when the reality of homelessness hit him on the way home from church one Sunday. “It was the first time I realized not everyone had what I had,” Joshua says of the moment that set him on the path to becoming a changemaker. Joshua didn’t understand the complexity of the issue, but knew he wanted to help. This was the starting point of Joshua’s Heart Foundation, a rapidly growing network of young people’s groups that gives caring, hope, and help to those suffering from poverty, hunger, and loneliness.

Launched in the Miami-Dade region of Florida in the United States, the Foundation started small, with Joshua cajoling his mother and aunts into helping him prepare and distribute food to homeless people in his community. Today, one of Joshua’s avenues of support involves young people creating “Hope Boxes” shoe boxes with food, toiletries and an inspirational note to share with community members experiencing homelessness. “One girl,” explains Joshua, “went to a man and said, “Hi, how are you? What’s your name?” And he immediately broke down and started to cry – he said that no one has asked him his name in over 20 years. And it’s something that got to me, got to her especially, and got to the man, so I think all of us learned something from that and transformed.”

Joshua never stopped. Since 2005, Joshua’s Heart Foundation has distributed over 2.2 million pounds of food and assisted more than 420,000 individuals; the Foundation is now in a number of U.S. states and in countries such as Haiti and India. Joshua has raised over $700,000, all of which go to those experiencing homelessness and poverty across the world. But perhaps the most lasting impact has been with the team Joshua built indeed, a team of many teams of thousands of young people taking his model to their communities. Joshua’s Heart Foundation gives them an avenue for experiencing changemaking at a young age and serves as a gateway for starting their own initiatives for the good of all. Together, they are discovering the skills for thriving in a rapidly changing world and realizing, as Joshua describes, that “you’re never too young to make a change in your community… as long as you believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, your background, your race,” Joshua says, “as long as you want to make a change, you should.”