Ultimately, every entrepreneur starts something.
According to the conventional definition, that "something" is a business, but what about the people who build a nonprofit organization? Except for hoping to make money, those individuals take a similar entrepreneurial and startup journey.
A perfect example is Marilyn Price of Trips for Kids, an organization that has helped over 100,000 disadvantaged children develop teamwork and leadership skills and build character and self-confidence .
I spoke to Marilyn as part of my series of interviews related to the Strayer University Readdress Success program, an initiative intended to redefine success as "happiness derived from good relationships, and achieving personal goals." (Strayer has launched a petition through Change.org to change the Merriam-Webster definition; sign the petition, and Strayer will donate 50 cents to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women.)
What is Trips for Kids, and how did you get it off the ground?
We're a nonprofit youth mountain biking program, and also just a plain biking program in that we have an earn-a-bike component. Kids can work on bikes and earn points toward bikes of their own or just learn bike mechanic skills. But mainly we're a mountain bike ride program for kids who would not otherwise have that opportunity.
I just started it with an idea of something that I wanted to do, and then I just kept taking more steps. As I succeeded with a step, I went on to the next step... until we are where we are today. We have approximately 70 active chapters throughout the country, and a couple overseas.
What challenges did you have to overcome early on?
I was fortunate that I was able to just start it slowly, and I think this is partly why we were so successful. I did not need it for the income, so I actually volunteered for 10 years. I just took it one step at a time, and we just kept gathering more momentum and more support and more help from the outside, and more funds.
It was very obvious from the first trip that I took with kids and some friends that the trips were going to be successful, both for the volunteers and for the kids. They loved it, and I knew in my mind what they would be gaining from it.
How did you find these kids?
The first group I took, I knew an agency up in San Rafael that dealt with these kids after school, and I just had them come on our trip. We went under their auspices.
I had a series of questions I mailed to approximately 40 social service agencies. Half of them said that if I started an organization like this they would want to participate. So I knew we would be able to find the kids.
You have worked with thousands of at-risk kids of all ages. Many of them grow up in an environment where they are exposed to drugs, gangs, or violence. From your point of view, what does success look like through the eyes of these children?
Our trips can be difficult for most of them because either they're not in shape, which we find more and more true of kids today, and this is something they haven't done for the most part. Or, for many, it's their first time on a bike, so just learning to shift gears can be difficult -- and so is going up hills.
For them, I think it's the sense of accomplishment. They learn that if they try something new and stick with it, they can achieve their goals. They can accomplish something. They start to realize they can accomplish anything.
Trips for Kids has branches all over the country and the world.
I feel we're universal. Throwing kids and bikes together, and then on top of that, we have volunteers that are supportive... and biking is so much fun. Even when it's hard work, even if you're going up hill, you know you'll get to go downhill.
It's a universal phenomenon. It's kids on bikes out in nature.
From a personal viewpoint, what does success mean to you?
Success, to me, is accomplishing something positive that you set out to do. I lean it away from fame and fortune and more toward doing good for others.
How has working with at-risk youth influenced your personal definition of success?
I was never a very confident person. I'd been a housewife and mother, never really had done a lot of professional work in my life , so when I first thought of Trips for Kids, my very next was thought was, "I can't do it."
The lesson I have learned about success is don't let your lack of confidence get you down; just go for it. If you have a good idea, and you work hard and persevere, you will succeed.
What have you learned from working with kids that applies to people of any age, where personal growth, success, etc., is concerned?
A valuable lesson to impart to kids to help them on a path to personal growth and success is to let them know that with passion, perseverance, and hard work they can turn their dreams into reality.
Also, it's important to let them know that they normally will not reach their goals overnight and they must be patient -- each step will lead to the next step.
And that's true for all of us, regardless of age.
If you could see the future, what would the pinnacle of your success look like?
In my mind, I look at -- and actually one day maybe we will do this -- forming a formal partnership with the Boys & Girls Club... but I look at them and see where they are in terms of their organization in the United States. I would like us to keep going in that direction, so that we are in more communities, serving more kids, all around the world... and that we're like a Boys & Girls Club in the realm of bicycling.
Others in this series: