Engaging with Project Engage NJ: Sitting Down with Founder Kiko Yoshihira
Updated: Aug 18
Milan Naropanth ('23)
A local EdTech organization
Starting a nonprofit organization is no easy task for an adult, let alone a high schooler. Despite being amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiko Yoshihira and her fellow board directors designed a system and created a local organization called "Project Engage NJ". It was started with the goal to promote education through the means of technology. Beginning in August 2020, about 20 classes have been offered at Project Engage, 30 instructors have taught with Project Engage, and about 1,000 registrations have been made with Project Engage. More than 200 families have been reached, and I sat down with Kiko Yoshihira, the founder of Project Engage NJ, to learn a little more about the cause.
Who are you and what is Project Engage NJ?
My name is Kiko Yoshihira and I’m a junior at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South and I am the founder and board director at Project Engage NJ. We offer free online classes for students K-8 taught by high school students. The classes are about topics not usually covered in school.
Many high school students are currently looking for volunteering opportunities. How can they get involved with Project Engage NJ?
We’re looking for people to fill leadership positions, such as a digital media manager, officer of fundraising, and board director. You can also become an officer, and if you are passionate about teaching children then you can sign up to teach anything you are interested in with a 6-week session or a workshop.
How did you think of creating Project Engage NJ?
I thought of creating Project Engage NJ because I started by teaching kids in my local area about science during the pandemic. I didn’t see other opportunities for high school students to teach children without being limited by what the organization already offers. I also saw it as an opportunity for students to learn about topics they could not at school. We began as a chapter of Project Engage RVA and they helped us reach out to students.
How do these classes work exactly?
We have 6-week sessions, and during the 2 weeks in between students can sign up through our website, projectengagenj.org. We meet online on Google Meet every week throughout the session. The classes are interactive and feature many activities. Right now, we are opening classes for the January-February session. In March, we are planning to have at least one in-person class. The location of this in-person class is currently to be determined, but it will definitely be in the Mercer County area, available to all younger students attending Lawrence Township Public Schools.
What classes do you offer at Project Engage NJ?
Right now, we offer Arts and Crafts, Chess, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Problem Solving, Spanish, and Wellness classes. In the past, we’ve offered the following classes: 3D Modeling and Animation, Science Exploration, Biology, Book Club, Coding, Current Events, History, Neuroscience, Photography, Speech and Debate. We hope to continue offering these classes after the current January-February session, as well as new classes in future sessions.
How will Project Engage NJ get involved with Lawrence High School?
We are open to working with clubs, such as the Debate team, the Science Olympiad team, and the Green Action team. We would love to spread awareness about specific clubs or interest groups at Lawrence High School through our platform of education. In the past, we’ve worked with another nonprofit organization, Snuggles for Children that gave activity books to foster children.
How was the process of turning Project Engage NJ into a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization?
We raised funds and applied for grants to have enough resources to apply to become a 501(c)(3) organization. The overall process took about a year.
A great cause
It’s not everyday that you hear a high schooler creating a successful nonprofit for the youth. You can support Project Engage NJ’s cause by donating on their website. Their future plans include a donation bingo on their Instagram, as well as a Chipotle fundraiser on March 5th. Their full schedule for January and February can be viewed here if you would like to sign up. If you would like to learn the specifics about becoming an instructor at Project Engage NJ, a full informational video can be viewed here. We are excited for the future of Project Engage NJ and how it can positively affect our youth!