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Redmond teens organize TEDxRedmond 2011 to inspire and motivate young people

This is the second year (from left) Priya Ganesan, Adora Svitak, Maya Ganesan and Adrianna Svitak have organized the TEDxRedmond conference. The conference is organized designed for young people, by young people and with young people speaking and performing. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
This is the second year (from left) Priya Ganesan, Adora Svitak, Maya Ganesan and Adrianna Svitak have organized the TEDxRedmond conference. The conference is organized designed for young people, by young people and with young people speaking and performing.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

While most teens spend their summers kicking back and relaxing, four Redmond teens have spent their time off from school organizing a conference for their peers.

TEDxRedmond 2011: The Spark in All of Us on Sept. 10 will be the second conference Maya Ganesan, Priya Ganesan, Adrianna Svitak and Adora Svitak have organized. It is modeled after TED, which began in 1984 as a conference to bring people together from the technology, entertainment and design worlds, according to its website. This annual conference is in Long Beach, Calif. and usually held sometime in February or early March. It was at this conference in 2010 that 13-year-old Adora became inspired to bring the event home.

The young author had spoken at TED about what adults can learn from kids and said she was excited by the conference's fusion of ideas. However, while she was there, Adora had noticed very few kids were in attendance. Wanting to bring the magic of TED to her peers, Adora teamed up with her sister Adrianna, 15, the Ganesan sisters Maya and Priya, who are 13 and 15 respectively, as well as 14-year-olds Victoria Bawn and Hannah Yang to make it happen. The result was TEDxRedmond. The "x" indicates that the event was created with the same principles as TED, but is independent from TED — designed by communities, organizations or individuals.

The event is open to individuals 18 years and younger, but the four girls said a number of spots are available for parents, educators, business leaders, civic leaders or other adults who wish to attend. TEDxRedmond will be in the afternoon for about four and a half hours. Free meals and snacks will be provided. The conference will be at the Microsoft Conference Center at 16070 NE 36th Way in Redmond.

To register, visit www.tedxredmond.com and click on the Register tab.

The six girls did most of the legwork in organizing the last year's conference, which brought in more than 700 attendants -- about the same number they hope to bring in this year -- but did receive help from Bing and Microsoft Tag in terms of sponsorship. They also received help with outreach from Generation YES, an Olympia-based nonprofit focused on teaching and empowering young people.

Their parents also provided support by driving them to meetings (since none of them could drive).

"(Almost) the whole thing was done by us," Maya said about last year's event. "That's something we've never done before."

This year, there are more than a dozen youths on the organizing team (right). The four girls said they are grateful to spread the work with the newcomers, who are attendants from last year and wanted to get involved after the conference ended.

Maya said one of the things they want to stress in organizing TEDxRedmond is that the event is created by young people, for young people and with young people speaking and performing.

"Listening to your peers is definitely powerful," Adora said about the importance of having presenters who were 18 and younger.

The foursome hopes attendees will be inspired and become empowered to get involved in their community.

"We don't have to wait till we grow up (to make a difference)," Priya said.

This year's presenters include a young man discussing the country's food system, a Redmond High School student working to end the use of child soldiers in Africa, two musical prodigies and a competitive sailor.

The four girls worked to get speakers from various sectors so kids can learn about things such as entrepreneurship and nonprofits, which they wouldn't learn in school.

The same goes for the musicians.

"I look for diverse genres of music," said Adrianna, who is in charge of the conference's musicians.

One of the musicians scheduled to perform is 2010 YouTube singing sensation 14-year-old Greyson Chance.

While organizing TEDxRedmond — both this year and last year — one of the challenges the Ganesans and Svitaks faced was getting adults to take them seriously and take a chance on a youth-based event. Sometimes they would receive no response from some businesses and organizations and Maya said it's because they don't always see the value in such events.

"They don't know if it's worth their time," she said.

Despite these difficulties, TEDxRedmond has received great support from the City of Redmond Arts CommissionMicrosoft Corp. is also supporting the event by providing the venue and food.

The teens are still in need of sponsors for TEDxRedmond. They said anyone interested can visit the TEDxRedmond website and click on the Sponsors tab for more information on how to get involved.

Although they had difficulties, Priya said they were able to overcome them and learn from the experience.

"We're really proud of our efforts...It's definitely not something we learned in school," she said.

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