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Santa Barbara High’s Dons Net Café Wins National Contest

The social venture project earns $1,000 in the Tr3s Latino Competition

The Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School — a virtual enterprise class taught through the Regional Occupational Programs of the Santa Barbara County Education Office — was one of three teams nationally to win the Tr3s Latino Competition sponsored by MTV, Musica Y Mas and Youth Venture in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and City Year.

The Tr3s Agents of Change campaign spotlights the issues that affect the Hispanic community in the United States, including immigration, education and environmental issues. The youth-driven initiative empowers young people to put ideas into action to make a difference in their community.

As one of the three winners, the Dons Net Café will receive a $1,000 prize to scale up the social venture project. The program also will be featured in a two-minute piece that will run on MTV for three weeks.

The award was based on the overall focus of the Dons Net Café as a total body of work, according to Lee Knodel, the ROP teacher who leads and advises the class. The Dons Net Café‘s mission is “to educate and empower both youth and community to create change that is both beneficial to society and to the environment while running a profitable student run social entrepreneurial business. We just want to do some good in the world,” she said.

The class works with the community by helping complete tax returns and helping people obtain Individual Tax Identification Numbers to gain citizenship. The class also does environmental work through street clean-ups, graffiti removal and recycling projects. The Do Ubuntu project helps orphans with AIDS in Africa — the group makes contact through Skype and has started a virtual classroom with African students as well.

This summer, the Dons Net Café presented at the University of Miami’s Ashoka Youth Leadership Conference, where 25 countries of youth leaders were gathered to learn about each other’s social entrepreneurism and service learning ventures.

“These students are committed to service learning and volunteer after-school hours, far above school requirement,” said County Superintendent Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the program. “The students become certified volunteer tax preparers, gain jobs and internships, and earn among the highest scholarship ratings in the county. There is also a high rate of graduates returning and volunteerism in the classroom. This award is fitting tribute to all the wonderful things they accomplish.”

The two other winning teams were from New York and Miami.

— Wendy Shelton is director of communications for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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