Devens, Mass (Oct. 14, 2010) –  Nearly 400 students spent a day learning how they could improve their school and community at the first-ever United Way Youth Venture Fall Kick Off, held at the SpringHill Suites in Devens Thursday.

“It is really inspiring to see the energy, creativity and drive that these students have to make our community better,” said Phil Grzewinski, president of United Way of North Central Massachusetts, which launched United Way Youth Venture to inspire young people to create and launch their own sustainable community-benefiting initiatives.

The students worked in break-out sessions where they exchanged ideas on the best practices for creating an action plan or application, promoting their cause through social media, and learning how to measure their impact.

Angelo Cosentino from Winchendon, whose team, Operation Murdock Cares, is preparing care packages for the troops overseas, was hoping to pick up a few good ideas to help his Venture grow. He and his teammates, Thomas Gauthier and Tyler LaPorte, attended a break-out session on how to use social media to promote their initiative.

Leominster’s Skyview Middle School students Alex Stathas and Adriana Orellana were looking to improve what they were already doing. Their Venture, Seeds for Success, is growing pumpkins with the proceeds to benefit a local food pantry.

Casey Megan, Isabella Oliveira and Sydney Greeno, who help publish a school newspaper at Shirley’s Lura A. White School, attended a Community Panel in which students presented their ideas to a panel of community leaders for approval as a United Way Youth Venture team and $1,000 seed funding.

The event included an inspirational speech by Molly Barker, an Ashoka Fellow, who founded Girls on the Run in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C. The initiative was created to break the gender stereotypes that limit their choices, opportunities and ability to thrive. The program is now in 160 cities across North America and engages over 75,000 youth.

United Way Youth Venture program is in 14 local schools and after-school programs in Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Shirley, Devens and Winchendon. The event also included teams from middle and high schools in New Hampshire, Greater Boston, Framingham, Worcester and Providence, R.I.

United Way Youth Venture in North Central Massachusetts is a three way partnership between Mount Wachusett Community College, Ashoka’s Youth Venture and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.

The event was sponsored by the United Ways of North Central Massachusettsand Greater Nashua, Askoka’s Youth Venture, Mount Wachusett Community College, Nashua Community College, Gardener’s Spot in Leominster, and Stonyfield Organic Yogurt.