YouthSpark Star of the Week: Marquis Cabrera

Our YouthSpark Star of the Week is Marquis Cabrera, who was recognized by the Case Foundation as one of their Finding Fearless Award Winners last year. We partnered with the Case Foundation for the initiative and sponsored a Microsoft YouthSpark award to recognize a young changemaker. Marquis won the YouthSpark award, so we caught up with him to find out how he’s using technology to change the world.

Most important question first -- how are you liking your Surface?

[Laughs] I’m Skyping you on it right now! I love it. So far, I’ve been able to take meeting notes, use Office applications, track expenditures, create reports – it’s been very handy and efficient!

How did you get interested in technology?

I’ve always been interested in technology. But my interest started in high school – where I learned how to take desktop computers apart and put them back together. I learned about public data networks, user interface and Steve Case’s role in revolutionizing the Internet. As a tech enthusiast, I am honored to have been selected as one of the Case Foundation awardees.

Tell us about the nonprofit you started, Foster Skills.

While at Northeastern University, I founded Foster Skills, Inc. As a foster kid myself, an adoptee at age 15, and after attending care and protection cases and mentoring foster youth, I knew I wanted to create an organization that would help kids beat the odds and achieve life success.

How do you plan to use technology in your work at Foster Skills?

Foster Skills has big plans to use technology. Because we teach life skills, we want to utilize gamification skills training to pilot a program that will get more students excited about learning. Also, we are working with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to improve their life skills curriculum and build a web portal of resources for children. We hope to develop a social networking component in the future, perhaps with LinkedIn.

What has been your most memorable moment at Foster Skills thus far?

Man, I have a lot of them. But mainly it is seeing people invest their time and money in the idea to improve outcomes for foster youth – it is incredibly humbling and encouraging. I also love the team here at Foster Skills: we do a lot of ‘head down’ work here, and the small tasks can seem like drudge, but when you add them up, you see big results. We’ve seen some great big results and I’m really grateful for that – and looking forward to seeing even more.

What is it like working with young people?

Once, a young black man that asked me in front of his friends: “Should we hang out with white people?” I answered: “Of course, man!” I’m biracial, and I spoke to them about race relations as if they were adults. They loved it – so much, that they asked me to sign their backpacks. I was like: “Really?” I’m not Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, but they still thought what I was doing was cool. That showed me that choosing to use my education as a vehicle for social change was the best thing I could have done for myself and others.