The Power of Social Change

United Way saw the value immediately,” acknowledges Jeff Sorenson, co-founder of optiMize, “when we combine the energy of hundreds of students each year with the guidance of an organization like United Way, we can generate really innovative projects that create a sustainable positive impact on some of our county's most pressing challenges.”
As a social innovation group that provides mentorship and funding to student-created and directed projects, optiMize was recognized as an opportunity to further the UWWC mission. "When I first met Jeff I knew our values aligned and we were both on a mission to do more and do it better for our community. We are glad to be partners in optiMize!” remarks UWWC President and CEO Pam Smith.
UWWC provided $5,000, the first prize sponsor in optiMize history. Since then, optiMize has leveraged that gift and in 2018 awarded more than $215,000 in prize money through optiMize Challenge, an incubator for students to develop their projects.
‘We started optiMize to encourage students to ask themselves, "Why not me?" and to take action on their ideas for social change,” recalled Sorensen. This belief, that students can change the world, has expanded significantly, with over 400 social innovation projects to date. Are you curious about what those projects look like? You can read some highlights below and find more about them here.
  • ValCycle is an end-to-end recycling platform connecting millions of dollars of excess inventory with non-profits. ValCycle, created by student Joe Lacey, reduces environmental waste and empowers community organizations while generating resources for social benefit.
  • Goals4Soles is a nonprofit organization envisioned by student Carlo Kemp. Its goal is to help kids in the inner cities of Michigan by supplying them with quality shoes, school supplies, and mentorship.
  • Books for a Benefit is a library building initiative designed by students Madeline McCabe and Zahra Dawson. The program finds unused spaces in homeless shelters or community centers and flips them into libraries. Books for a Benefit helps to build communities of lifelong learners and equitable opportunities in education. 
Funding projects like these create a ripple of good throughout our community. Donate today and support United Way of Washtenaw County in investing in our future.