On Friday, May 5, 2023, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Team Kids hosted the Innovative Thinkers Forum IV. Celebrating over 20 years of partnership, the Forum welcomed leaders in education, public safety, and philanthropy from all over the country to learn how meaningful collaboration can create healthy environments for young people to thrive and succeed.

About Team Kids

As a nonprofit organization that empowers kids to change the world, Team Kids strives to help children see themselves as powerful changemakers and to bring together community leaders to create healthy environments where kids can grow and flourish. With these goals in mind, Team Kids hosts youth leadership programs that foster empathy and self-efficacy while strengthening children’s connections to their peers, community, and mentors.

During the last 20 years, over 250 UCI students have interned with Team Kids and gained hands-on experience with mentorship while positively impacting the lives of kids throughout Orange County. The partnership between UCI and Team Kids is so successful that it has become the model that Team Kids uses to scale its mission across the country. 

About the Innovative Thinkers Forum IV

The goal of the University of California, Irvine & Team Kids Innovative Thinkers Forum IV was to celebrate and introduce this partnership to other institutions who might be interested in working with Team Kids. The Forum was an interactive experience that united universities, school districts, public safety departments, and corporations to strengthen relationships, elevate effective practices, share resources, and drive innovation in how we equip and empower kids to make a difference.

According to Team Kids founder and CEO Julie Hudash, the conference offered an opportunity to share the amazing things that can happen when independent entities learn to work together:

“We all have a role to play, and we all need a seat at the table to make a difference for young people. When you see the magic that happens between college students, elementary school students, police, and firefighters all working together to help the homeless, support abandoned animals, or bring joy to kids who have cancer, it’s easy to see that this works and changes lives.”

“UC Irvine is proud to serve as an anchoring institution for our friends and neighbors, allowing us to leverage our amazing resources as a large public research university, so that we can address the community’s most pressing needs. Our relationship with Team Kids is a wonderful example of this connection,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman as he opened the Forum. He continued, “Today, we’re going to hear from national leaders and discuss strategies to work together to meet the needs of the young people we serve collaboratively. The needs are vast, the work is vital, and I wish you every success in the work that we’re here to do.”

Hudash, Michael Dennin, UCI Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of Undergraduate Education, and Farrah Khan, Mayor of the City of Irvine, also delivered opening remarks, welcoming attendees and highlighting the purpose of the event. 

The Forum also featured a keynote presentation from Arshay Cooper. Arshay Cooper is an award-winning author, an activist focused on issues of accessibility for low-income families, and a member of the country’s first all-Black high school rowing team. During his keynote, titled “Dream and Act Together,” he highlighted the importance of teamwork and collective action in building environments where kids feel supported and valued. 

“When you act beyond yourself and your career and your major, that’s when impact happens. That’s when change happens. And that’s why I’m here today. I realized that I can’t do it alone; I need to get eight in the boat to make an impact in our community..You may work in church, in politics, in school, or a nonprofit, but in order to make the boat go fast in our community we must learn to make deposits into each other’s lives. We cannot do the work of eight. We need eight to do the work of one, and that’s how we get the job done.”

Other key events from the Forum included a research presentation on the Team Kids Challenge, a discussion of the positive impact that this program has on youth engagement, and a panel where leaders from different sectors shared their experiences working with children to help refine strategies for supporting kids in our communities. “Pitches for Action” was another exciting segment that invited speakers—including NBA legend Metta World Peace, retired UFC Champion Uriah Hall, and Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center Ryan Foland—to give short presentations on scalable practices and innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges kids face today.

“I was thrilled to present and support an organization that does so much good,” said Foland. “Team Kids is a beacon of hope for the next generation, and I am proud to support their mission and the incredible impact they have on the lives of young people.”

Following the “Pitches for Action” presentations, the Forum closed with a Community Building Reception that invited attendees and presenters to mingle, connect, and share resources and insights.

Reflecting on the event and the decades-long partnership between UCI and Team Kids, Vice Provost Dennin said: 

“I’m so grateful that UCI has had the opportunity to partner with Team Kids and make a meaningful difference not only in the lives of children but also for our students and the local community. I’m incredibly proud of what we have managed to do together, and I  hope that our partnership will encourage colleges and universities across the country to seek out meaningful collaborations that benefit their communities as well.”

Interested in learning more about the University of California, Irvine & Team Kids Innovative Thinkers Forum IV? Visit this website to watch event recordings, learn more about the presenters, and explore opportunities to get involved. 

To learn more about Team Kids and how they empower the next generation of leaders, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.