Millennials’ mission to improve the world

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

While some may gripe that the younger generation is only obsessed with selfies and the next Starbucks latte, millennials have been on a mission to prove they can be the next generation to help improve the world.

FATE students and mentors Cyan Sims (from lower left), Dale Boomer, DaJuan Thomas, LeAuna Brown, David Merritt (leaning across table), Michael Chrzan, Harry Champion, and Ashley Jordan, work with Gensler, an American design and architecture firm, to help design the new Merit/FATE Detroit location, which will open in 2016.

Take David Merritt, the former University of Michigan basketball captain. In 2013, he created Merit, a clothing line dedicated to helping Detroit-area students with their education. For every item sold, 20 percent of the purchase price helps to fund college scholarships for underprivileged youths.

So far, Merritt’s program has provided $5,000 scholarships to 22 students.

“As young people, it is our job to help inspire the younger generation and make positive contributions to society,” he said. “Better students make better leaders and builds character. Our goal is to reach as many students as we possibly can.”

Last year, more than 84 percent of millennials donated to charitable organizations, with only 22 percent saying their donations were strictly solicited through their place of work, according to the Millennial Impact Project, which has studied generation Y and its involvement with social causes.

In the past year, the baby boomer population made the most monetary donations with 70 percent, Generation Xers at 63 percent and Millennials at 57 percent, according to a study by Motif Investing.

David Merritt moves the ball during the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO., in this March 19, 2009 photo.

Millennials, however, are shown to donate more time to charitable organizations with 41 percent, baby boomers at 39 percent and Generation Xers at 37 percent, the study found.

The term “millennials” — also known as “generation Y” — was coined in 1991 by Neil Howe and William Strauss, co-authors of “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069,” to describe children born between 1980 and 2000.

Millennials make up 24 percent of the population, and members are sometimes compared with the “Greatest Generation” — those born between 1900 and 1924 — because of their strong sense of community locally and globally, according to Howe and Strauss.

Eileen Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust and an expert on charitable giving, credits millennials with giving spirit to social media.

“Millennials like to let people know what they are doing, whether it be through Facebook or Twitter. They are making a huge impact on society by using crowd surfing and other tools which makes it easier for them to volunteer and give money,” said Heisman, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

One of the nation’s most influential millennials made a splash in December by announcing a huge philanthropic intiative.

Mark Zuckerberg, 31, Facebook creator and its chief executive, said he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, want to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares, which are worth $45 billion, to a limited liability company that will work to fight disease, improve education and promote other causes.

Locally, Joe Golden, 30, and Kevin Borders, 30, who met at The Roeper School in Birmingham and both graduated from the University of Michigan, are using their company,, to help with community improvement.

At, customers use software to make collages on blankets, photo albums or clothing. Golden and Borders had no idea that their company, which started as a hobby in 2007, would achieve so much success.

Last year, the company donated $11,500 to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, plus $10,000 worth of products to nonprofits nationally, according to the firm’s website.

“My grandmother was a huge humanitarian in Flint and she gave to a lot of causes and community groups,” said Golden, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics and a Ph.D. in economics. “That’s why it’s so important for us to give back, and we are so fortunate to be in the position to give.”

Golden said because the employees at are dedicated and passionate about helping those in the community, they are volunteering at Forgotten Harvest in Oak Park starting this month.

Dustin Stallworth, 29, of Detroit, who gives to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and teaches boxing and baseball to underprivileged youths, volunteers because he learned from watching his parents.

“My parents are baby boomers and I would always see my mom giving money or clothes to someone in need,” he said. “Now that I’m older and see the effects that giving can have on the younger generation, why wouldn’t I give my time?”

Heisman said most baby boomers are in their second phase of life and are starting to retire and millennials are just starting their careers. While they are at different ends of the spectrum, both generations are a lot alike.

“They are both passionate and committed in what they do,” Heisman said. “The medium in which they give has just changed. . Baby boomers go home and write a check. With the rise of crowd funding websites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, Millennials can now give money on their phones with just a click of a button.”

For those who refer to millennials as the lazy and self-centered “me generation,” Golden said all of the generations can work together to make improvements.

“I feel sorry for anyone that feels that we are not making an impact on society,” he said. “But the only way to encourage growth and motivation is to lead by example.”

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