Teen earns national praise for ‘growing’ leadership

Ryan Graham. Photo by Andrea Waxman of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

Most teens are walking around with a device in their hand, but for Ryan Graham, that’s not a good fit. Graham, 18, was awarded $6,000 for his namesake scholarship. The award was given by U.S. Cellular, recognizing his work with Teens Grow Greens.

The organization was also given $4,000. Teens Grow Greens works to empower youth with a nine-month paid internship where they learn leadership and entrepreneurship skills.

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reports

In addition, winners starred in short documentary films and traveled to New York City for a December weekend to publicize the program, tour famous sites and visit the stock exchange.

Graham was given the opportunity to ring the closing bell and strike the gavel at the end of the trading day at the New York Stock Exchange.

Joining Teens Grow Greens, whose director Charlie Uihlein nominated Graham for the award, was a scary experience, Ryan said. “But I took that risk and it was the best experience of my life. It taught me that my opinion was valid. It was empowering to know I had a voice,” Graham said.

Teens Grow Greens’ vision is to help the teens it hires grow into purposeful leaders, according to Uihlein. During a nine-month paid internship, teens develop skills through hands-on experience in responsibility, healthy living, leadership and entrepreneurship. They work with young children and as a group, growing and cooking healthy food and creating a profitable product that is good for people and for the environment.

Last year, Ryan’s intern group had many conversations on a large range of topics, said Kate Holter, then a volunteer mentor and UWM student studying community engagement education and nutritional sciences.

“Ryan talked to me about his life and his goals and I saw him evolve. He was … reluctant to speak up or share openly but when he did, he was so good at it,” Holter said. “As the months went by he became more comfortable in his own skin. He matured and became more articulate,” she added.

For more on Teens Grow Greens and Ryan Graham, visit Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service