Story by Christine Whitton
Though only three years out of college, Courtney Klein has accomplished more in the last few years than many do in a lifetime. A 2005 graduate of Arizona State University's Barrett Honors College, Klein is the chief executive officer of Valley nonprofit New Global Citizens and the newest Athena Award winner in the Phoenix Young Professional Division.
During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Klein and a passionate group of 12 traveled to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to provide much-needed relief to its residents. While there, Klein built schools, repaired homes and acted as a liaison translating pertinent information to area medical clinics. It was not until Klein's trip home that she realized the unbelievable difference young people can have on ravaged communities if given the opportunity. The one facet holding Generation Y back, she realized, was the overall lack of awareness of the world's crisis.
Klein assembled a strategic business plan that would tackle the growing epidemic of uneducated youth and hopefully ignite a flame from within. Finalized and in black and white, Klein submitted her plans to ASU's Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and received a $1,000 seed grant. During Klein's senior year at ASU, she launched the grass-roots nonprofit Youth Re:Action Corps, of which she served as the founder and executive director. In February 2008, Youth Re:Action Corps fused with Youth Philanthropy Worldwide to form New Global Citizens (NGC).
As acting C.E.O. of NGC, Klein realized that the current generation will inherit many of the world's current troubles. "The problems facing the next generation are really the problems facing the world [today]," Klein says. "The good thing is that our generation is the most technologically diverse, technologically connected and ethnically diverse generation the world's ever seen." In turn, education is the key. New Global Citizens educates its students in 10 viable areas ranging from extreme poverty to natural disasters. Students choose an area of interest, which they then apply to partnering projects. "Partnering projects are driven out of the idea that local communities know best what local communities need," Klein says. Currently, NGC has reached 80 high schools (with teams averaging 15 to 25 students) coast to coast and is quickly advancing partnerships in foreign countries. To counterbalance, NGC is shifting its focus to an online platform.
It should be no surprise that Klein was recently credited with the Athena Award honoring her professional accomplishments. This award was "a testimony to the village [Phoenix] that raised me and inspired me to dream," says Klein. As for her next step, Klein's going to let loose and live a little. She is currently training to run 18.5 miles of a 180-mile relay-style run from Wickenburg to Mesa—another testament to Klein's persistent prerogative that it takes a team to reach a goal.