While at a meeting, Danny Mendoza found out in last April he was picked as one of the top 5 finalists for VH1’s 2012 Do Something! Awards through a text from a friend, simply stating, “it is only the beginning.” Mendoza knew exactly what he was referring to.
“I stayed quiet for a second and just recollected all the memories and all the time we put in. I just smiled. I stepped out of the conference room and shouted it out to my team! It was a moment that I won’t ever forget,” recalls Mendoza.
At the age of nineteen, Mendoza was motivated to create Together We Rise after his nine-year-old cousin was found living in a car. “I researched the foster care system because I thought that would be a good fit for him but I was in shock regarding how broke[n] then the system was,” says Mendoza.
He had the passionate drive to help kids in similar situations, but was limited due to his young age and financial resources. Together We Rise is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of foster children in America.
Mendoza decided to take matters into his own hands and started to look for answers online. After coming across an ad for Legal Zoom that read “start your own non-profit,” Mendoza described it as a sign and that “it was fate.”
Taking action soon after, Mendoza assembled twenty of his friends and started reading books on how to file for a 501(c)3 tax law provision permitting exemption from the federal income tax to non-profit organizations. The process to get confirmed by the IRS as an actual charity took seven to eight months.
Among the many obstacles that came their way, Mendoza and his team’s age was the main hurdle they encountered at first.
“People would doubt us because we were so young and for the most part, young people haven’t been heavily involved in giving back. One of my friends also told me to focus on what we have and not on what we don’t,” says Mendoza.
Mendoza and his friends made their age an asset by seeking help and promoting their non-profit through social media. It worked.
Since its inception in 2008, TWR has raised over one million dollars for children in foster care, and was able to remodel six group homes. Through the engagement of hundreds of volunteers, all of whom are under the age of 25, TWR has raised awareness about the foster care system. Through programs that provide music lessons, mentoring, bikes for foster youth, sports and athletics, free sports camps, job readiness, and more, TWR offers the resources for foster kids to prepare for success at the age of eighteen, when they are removed from the foster care system and are left on their own. TWR is now the largest youth-based organization advocating for foster youth.
TWR has obtained a growing national audience through the success of several voting competitions, such as the Pepsi Refresh Project and Chase Community Giving, accruing over one million votes. The success of TWR in improving the lives of children in foster care has also earned celebrity recognition by Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo Lucy Hale and radio DJ JoJo. This year, Mendoza was recognized by MLB, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, & People All-Stars Among Us for his accomplishments — he was 1 of 3 chosen out of 8,000 applicants.
The organization’s most current accomplishment is the nomination for the 2012 VH1 Do Something! Awards. The ceremony will honor and celebrate the country’s best young world changers who represent the pivotal “do-ers” in their field, cause or issue. One winner will receive a life-changing $100,000 for his or her project. This year’s award ceremony will air on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm EST on VH1 at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California.
“It is an honor and privilege to have my name even mentioned among these celebrities. But it feels amazing to be a finalist for all the hard work my team and I have been put in. Dedication and hard work pays off, and I am living proof,” says Mendoza.
The awards will also be given to celebrities who are doing good things. Those nominees include: Kristen Bell, Ben Affleck, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Richie, Neil Patrick Harris, Channing Tatum, Emma Stone, and many others.
As a Latino, Mendoza feels it is a step in the right direction for the community. A large portion of the kids TWR works with are Latino, and to see someone of the same ethnicity helping them allows for a “unique and special relationship” adds Mendoza.
Mendoza hopes to inspire other individuals with big dreams and heart by his example. “Never allow someone to make you feel like you can’t do something. You have the most powerful tool in the world to allow you to be anything you want and that is the internet. So put your Nikes on and ‘just do it.’ Trying will help you but doing will change you,” advises Mendoza.
His efforts would not have been possible without the help from the people in his life and those who shared his determination.
“I will never say that ‘I’ created it because it has been a group of people who have been a part of our story,” explains Mendoza. “People think that I am this ‘CEO / Founder’ and have this perception of me but what they don’t realize is there are really hundreds of people who make up who I am. It is incredible to look back and see what we were able to do and I am privileged to be the face of the organization.”
As far as the future goes, Mendoza aspires to continue what he is doing while adding small innovative adjustments to take it to the next level.