“Inspiring kids to give of themselves for the good of the world.”
Leah Okimoto, Founder and Executive Director
Leah Okimoto has always made her dreams a priority. Having the opportunity to work in New York City after finishing her bachelor’s degree presented many opportunities. Leah followed her first passion—music—and composed for musical theatre shows for a number of years. She also worked as a paralegal, administrative assistants and on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular working with other musicians. Very early on she knew that she needed a career path that could let her focus on many of her different interests. For her, “Aaron’s Presents is the culmination of all my interests and personality traits. It brings together my love of kids, my love of projects, and creativity – trying to make good things happen and add something positive to the world in honor of my son.” When Leah began developing the idea of Aaron’s Presents, she saw that there was a lot of community that came behind her in Lowell to embrace her idea.
Aaron’s Presents is currently trying to grow and has become much more than just a grants program. It is a youth development program that empowers young people to follow their dreams and pursue their ideas for the greater good by providing inspiration, logistical help and mentoring. Through her program she hopes to inspire youth in 8th grade and younger to become positive role models for their peers and the larger community. “Instead of thinking, ‘When I accomplish this goal, or finish this class, or acquire this skill, what will I get,’ I’m trying to get them to think, ‘Now that I have achieved that skill or accomplished something, what can I give?’” She emphasizes that this one-word switch is something that resonates with the youth in her program. Experiences like those that come from participating in Aaron’s Presents benefit both the youth in their personal development and numerous community organizations such as homeless shelters, animal shelters, nursing homes, hospitals and hundreds of individuals who are on the receiving end of their thoughtful, creative acts of service.
Aaron’s Presents works with youth within a 25-mile radius of Andover, where the organization is based, but hopes to build the organization’s presence in Lowell each year. This year, Aaron’s Presents also developed a partnership with Girls Inc. in Lowell and involved more local youth making an impact with their ideas. The Lowell Community Charter Public School and the Youth Development Organization of Lawrence were the first two organizations that Leah worked with and in 2014, Aaron’s Presents completed 14 projects and worked with 29 kids. Between January and June 2015, Aaron’s Presents will complete another 40 projects and work with about 100 more kids ages 8-14. Part of the process of Aaron’s Presents includes filling out an application and planning out a project. Aaron’s Presents helps connect the youth to opportunities and resources in their own community to help bring their projects to life. Youth who work on projects benefit from this unique experience by taking ownership, learning leadership skills and starting to develop an understanding of their power to make a positive difference in the lives of other people. For Leah, this is a small but important step toward building the next generation of volunteers, donors, social entrepreneurs and engaged community members who help each other out, something which she sees as a worthwhile and necessary pursuit.