I Wish I Could Tell My Middle School Self

This year’s Young Leader’s Society campaign kicks off on September 3rd. Each year, United Way for Greater Austin provides quality educational programming for middle school students right here in Central Texas, and the Young Leaders Society helps make this work possible through donating, advocacy and volunteer efforts.

Middle school is a notoriously hard time, especially for the low-income students we serve. We asked YLS members to tell us what they wish they could travel back in time to tell the middle school versions of themselves.

Celso Baez, III

“If such a time capsule existed that would teleport my 26-year-old self in front of my chubby 13-year-old middle school self, I’d have quite a lot to say. Beyond the flat-top haircut humiliation, the one thing I’d emphasize is that community involvement is a way of life and to start acting like it, plus encouraging others around me to follow suit.

The Young Leaders Society’s (YLS) efforts via United Way for Greater Austin’s Target Graduation Program aim to bridge the ever-growing opportunity gap between students in low-income households and students in medium to high-income households. While this is very important to tackle, I’d look at my “state-dubbed, at-risk youth” self in the eye, and challenge myself and my other prepubescent friends to endeavor in rewriting their own narratives by way of community engagement. Simply put, if you see a need, try your best to do something about it.

In non-13-year-old language, I’d suggest to others that caring about your neighborhood and the people in it isn’t exclusive to the affluent. This applies to school, friends, family, church, etc. The way I see it now at 26 is that chances are if a person in ANY community is passionate about something–for example, why there isn’t a sidewalk that connects a street to a park or a school?–greater are the chances this person cares about the park and school itself; the likelihood of this person caring about education, local government, and quality of life issues is exponentially larger, thus snowballing into a more participatory citizenry and a better community.

If this sounds like something any other 26-year-olds out there (or older) agree with, I invite you to join YLS’s work and jumping in a time capsule with me.”

John Kaercher

“Work hard. Be nice. Hang on. Stop worrying.”

Keith Richardson

“If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice in Middle School I would say to meet as many people as possible. Back in middle school I was so focused on my fear of being outgoing that I missed out on many opportunities. I was very shy as a middle school student and I did not engage in social situations as much as I could have. I remember being intimidated by the middle school lunch room on the first day of school and not having a group to sit with brought on a lot of stress. As the year went on I learned to trust myself and meet more and more of my peers. I would tell my former self that every middle school students has insecurities but when we focus on what we have in common vs. what divides us we find more friends in life than strangers.

Looking back, I wish I would have had access to Volunteer Program Leadership classes. I think it is awesome that we give middle students a way to socialize and engage with their peers in a pressure-free environment. While working at United Way, I have witnessed shy middle school students form bonds with their peers while cleaning up a community garden, building a skate ramp or doing mock interview with volunteers. When I found out that my membership to Young Leaders Society would provide students with an opportunity to succeed I wanted to be a member. Not only am I able to donate financially but also with my time and skills as a young professional. I was recently told by a volunteer from Wells Fargo that you shouldn’t give until it hurts but you should give until it feels good. I definitely feel good about giving through Young Leaders Society and I want to continue to make a positive impact on middle school students right here in Austin!”

Carly Boland

“If I could go back in time and give advice to my middle school self I would tell her to not worry so much. Middle school is one of the most difficult times in any adolescent life and if at that age I was reminded to stay true to who I am and to not worry so much about petty issues like clothes, who I sat next to in class, or the opposite sex, I probably would have had a much better time.

Now that I am adult, if I have the power to be a small glimmer of positivity in the chaotic life of a middle-school student and make just one of their days a little better, then I will be providing something I wish someone had done for me at that age. For this reason, I am so happy to be a part of the Young Leaders Society and working to make an impact in the lives of young people.”

Want to meet current YLS members and hear what it’s all about? Join us at Icenhauer’s on September 3rd and learn how you can get involved with YLS or email Keith Richardson at for more information.