Lincoln-Way East entrepreneur excited to elevate local impactThursday, May 17, 2018
Over the past six years, Ryan Hesslau has spent the majority of his free time focusing on a "do good" mission. After graduating from college last week, he is excited to make that mission his full-time job.
Hesslau says that when he began as a freshman at Lincoln-Way East High School, like many high school students, he developed a fear of rejection and a desire for acceptance. But between freshman and senior year, his experiences and interests helped him build both confidence and motivation. By the time Hesslau graduated in 2014, he already had experience in entrepreneurial ecosystem – from cold calling, to public speaking, business writing and more.
“One of the hobbies I picked up in high school was writing business plans in my free time,” he says. “I would think of innovative concepts, build plans for them and design how they would come to life. Not too long after, I just thought to myself, ‘How cool would it be to take this entrepreneurial DNA that I’ve discovered within myself, and mesh it with the nonprofit world?’”
During his sophomore year at Lincoln-Way East, Hesslau started an initiative to help struggling students cling to hope. “I’d written up an idea of what I wanted to do; it was clouded in terms of what I wanted to focus on,” he says. Despite not having a solid plan, Hesslau knew he wanted to create an initiative to combat bullying and the stigma surrounding mental health. On May 6, 2012, the then 16-year-old launched a Facebook page called, “foreverU”: an initiative that would eventually evolve into a youth empowerment organization.
Hesslau began by reaching out to his friends and fellow classmates via social media to gain momentum. “I started on a small scale, by speaking to after school clubs and local organizations. “Toward the end of high school, foreverU consisted of me traveling around, speaking to schools and organizing community initiatives,” he says. “I was on a mission to help students to understand these issues in our culture, and provide them with an opportunity to be part of initiating change within their schools and communities.”
Today, foreverU has evolved from an anti-bullying project into a 501(c)(3) youth empowerment organization that exists to ensure "no youth walk through life alone."
The organization currently offers empowerment camps, retreats and programs for high school students throughout the Midwest and beyond. All programs are focused on personal development and self-empowerment principles, while also cultivating peer-to-peer communities in the process. Hesslau says, “We are simply helping youth find their place in the world, and equipping them to live a life of impact and influence–no matter what battle they are up against.”
The once clouded direction of his idea is now a solid and thriving organization. The recent college graduate oversees their Board of Directors, Student Advisory Council and Event Committees; the volunteer-run nonprofit plans to expand its leadership in day-to-day operations by bringing in full-time and part-time staff members in the near future. While leading foreverU, Hesslau is also the Founder & CEO of the counseling and communication technology company: Above the Waves.
Hesslau’s former teachers from Lincoln-Way East still follow along with his work and support his growth. “From the time we first met and he became part of one of my ASSET presentations at East to now, as he graduates from college, it has been a privilege to watch and support Ryan's efforts with foreverU,” says Lincoln-Way employee Liz Gerske. “I have been amazed with his passion, drive, organizational skills and poise. He is articulate and full of concern and love for the struggling youth in our schools and I look forward to seeing his future and the future of foreverU unfold.”
On June 24, 2018, foreverU will hold its third annual Golf Outing & Banquet fundraiser to help send students through their empowerment camps, retreats and programs. Those who would like to support the cause can register at www.foreverUmovement.org/golf. Those who aren’t golfers can still support the cause by registering to attend the evening banquet.
Additionally, foreverU is hosting its second overnight empowerment camp (offered through their program, “Reset Experience”) for high school students. The camp teaches students how to “be brave with the story they are living,” and gives students the tools needed to live a life of impact, influence and courage. Those interested can learn more and register at www.foreverUmovement.org/camp.