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How this start-up is helping students get involved in community service even during COVID-19

Michael Kadisha, Founder and CEO of Treedom, joins Yahoo Finance's On the Move panel to discuss how his company is linking students to community service in their communities and beyond.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Many of the students who are doing remote learning across the country still have to fulfill service requirements. That is, they have to do volunteer opportunities in order to graduate in some cases, or in some cases, to still impress on their college application. This next service helps connect them with those opportunities. We're joined by Michael Kadisha. He's founder and CEO of Treedom. And we're speaking to him as part of our "Road to Recovery" segment focused on education and brought to you by TIAA. Michael's joining us from Los Angeles.

So Michael, when people are at home, when students are at home and they need to do these volunteer opportunities, how do they do them remotely? I mean, you tend to think of these things like volunteering in soup kitchens, for example, which are not [AUDIO OUT].

MICHAEL KADISHA: Yes, thanks for having me. It's actually an interesting question, because at the start of the pandemic, all of our opportunities available to students were in-person. And once we got over the first month of chaos and a little bit of concern in the team, we started to understand what our responsibility is for our students and for the schools that we service. And we realized that we have to build features and we have to promote an idea of service that is more self-directed, project-based, and more in line with the interests and passions of the students at the time.

And what we realized through that process is, if we can provide the tools for students to engage in their community, not only can they learn more meaningfully, because they can, we know that they retain 75% more information when they can actually put it into practice, but simultaneously, they became active change makers in their communities. They went out, they did shopping for our senior citizens. They convinced local restaurants to stop using single-use plastics, or at least be more conscious of it. And we think we mobilized our 45,000 students to get involved in their communities in ways that we hadn't been thinking about before.

And in that process and that evolution of trying to understand what does the future of service learning really look like, what does the future of impact look like, we now understand that we can build functionality that allows for everyone to be part of that process and everyone to be a participant or a member of our community. And with that, we will be launching a generation of Treedom that is available to everyone, that includes more innovative features that aren't necessarily the soup kitchen that you had just mentioned.

MELODY HAHM: Michael, as we approach the presidential election coming up, I think in 27 days, I think it's fascinating to hear from young people, some of whom say it is their civic duty, they are so excited to participate in this first presidential election. However at the same time, there's a lot of folks who are disenfranchised, and they say they can make more impact in their own communities by doing projects like the ones you offer. What are you sensing from the students you're working with? Are they sort of completely jaded by politics and they feel like the best way to help is by doing these sort of one-off projects or perhaps something more local?

MICHAEL KADISHA: Yeah, I think it's an interesting point. Because I don't necessarily think that the students are jaded. I think what we've seen from the students that we service is, a very strong emphasis on their power and their voice and their contribution. They understand that the future is theirs. There's no question about it. They understand that it's more their future than it is my future. It's more their future than it's your future, it's more their future than it is most of the country.

And they care about it. That's why we're seeing them invest so much in climate change. It's why we're seeing them try to invest in their communities in ways that are quite for us, inspiring at least. We see all of these submissions, we see what the students are doing. And they've even organized groups to go safely, to safely go door by door trying to get their community to vote. And with that, I think it's, we can be very optimistic about the future of our children.

DAN HOWLEY: Michael, this is Dan. I just want to ask, generally, who are these students? And where do they go after working with the program?

MICHAEL KADISHA: So we so we service 45,000 students in six states. We launched in September of 2019. I think in that time, we've really been able to move about the country very effectively very swiftly. With that, we've seen all types of students. We've seen students that are very motivated in their communities. We've seen students that are not.

And we feel that what we build with our software and with the app has engaged all types of students, no matter who they are, no matter how much they care. And I think ultimately, if they were to do these service opportunities, what we're trying to do is inspire a civically-minded more social and emotional approach to life beyond high school as they go to college.

And if we can plant a seed for them when they are in high school, they can be exposed to opportunities that they otherwise would not have been exposed to in the process, and they can realize through that process that you know what, maybe I want to be this or maybe I want to be an astronaut or maybe I want to go and be part of the nonprofit and public service ecosystem. Through that process, they learn more about themselves and they can take it with them into their future.