Wayne State senior pays it forward for the good of Detroit
Twenty-year-old Charlie Cavell is a man of many titles. He is a senior in Wayne State University’s School of Social Work. He is an entrepreneur, the founder and executive director of his own nonprofit, the Pay It Forward Initiative. He is vice president of the Loving Elementary Charter School Board. He is a community organizer, coordinating numerous park cleanups throughout the city. But of all his titles, the one Cavell holds most dear is that of Detroiter.
Cavell is a leader in the creative youth movement sweeping the city. In September 2010, he began recruiting volunteers to help implement his idea for a paid internship program for Detroit youth, what would soon become the basis of his Pay It Forward Initiative. “I thought it would be a good idea for a school project,” said Cavell, “so I talked to other social work students, and they were interested in working on it.”
Cavell then talked to some of the movers and shakers of Detroit’s business community. Most advised him to establish a nonprofit organization to increase opportunities for grants and other funding. “That’s when I stopped seeing my idea as a school project and began to see it as an engine to help others,” said Cavell.
At the same time, the Blackstone LaunchPad was just opening its doors to support Wayne State’s student entrepreneurs, and Charlie Cavell was one of the first to sign up. “The opportunities he’s provided for people in this community are extraordinary,” said William Volz, executive director of Blackstone. “His success is largely a function of the boundless energy, the tremendous enthusiasm and the fundamental good heart of Charlie Cavell. This is a very special person.”
With Blackstone’s help, Cavell developed a business plan for his internship program, and the Pay It Forward Initiative was incorporated as an IRS-certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency in November 2010. Pay It Forward recently completed its second round of internship placements; so far, Cavell has provided 16 young Detroiters with paying jobs and first-hand work experience.
Earlier this summer, the Pay It Forward Initiative was awarded a grant by Wayne State to begin parenting classes for low-income residents from the North End District. The six-week program, dubbed Parent U, will begin in late September and enlist students majoring in education, psychology and social work as facilitators.
“It’s double the benefit, because we are able to give parents a safe, nonjudgmental environment to learn how to become more involved in their children’s lives,” Cavell explained, “while at the same time giving Wayne State students first-hand experience of social work in action.”
In addition, Cavell recently met with executives from Automation Alley and Bizdom U to present his most ambitious program yet: a small-business incubator for low-income single parents. “I’m looking for ways to make Pay It Forward more sustainable — something that will truly transform people,” said Cavell. “What’s more sustainable and transformational than owning your own business and having control over your own future?”
Charlie Cavell would know. His efforts as a student at Wayne State will sustain him well beyond his graduation next May, and continue to transform both his own future and the city of Detroit.