Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
July 12, 2021
Matine Khalighi | EEqual
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Matine Khalighi and I’m the executive director and co-founder of EEqual based in Denver, Colorado, which was founded a year ago. We are a youth-led nonprofit organization working to overcome student homelessness by increasing access to higher education and spreading awareness about this issue among young people.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
In eighth grade, I took a community service class that was centered around doing something positive for my community. That inspired a close friend and me to distribute basic hygiene materials on our own to people on the streets of downtown Denver. Over the years I began to learn about this larger problem of young people experiencing homelessness. At the same time, many of my peers were really interested in the work we were doing, and we thought we had such an incredible opportunity here to do something even bigger. By my senior year of high school, our grassroots work was growing. We were throwing benefit galas and 5k runs. We wanted to take it to the next level to grow it outside of Colorado so we could impact more people. That’s when EEqual came into the mix and we really shifted towards working directly with young people and focusing on education as a tool to break the cycle of poverty.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
As I was growing up I was keenly aware of the issue of homelessness. I always felt that it was wrong that so many people are able to afford such luxury while others are struggling to just get basic necessities. I think people often look at the issue of homelessness as a pity problem – they feel bad for people, but at the same time, there’s this independent mindset that we’ve developed in America that we don’t need to worry about what other people are doing. However, none of us can move forward together if we’re leaving people behind. There is so much potential that is lost in our society as a result of homelessness, especially when we look at students who are homeless. You don’t know who’s going to be the next person to invent something amazing or who can contribute something super valuable to our society.
A lot of my motivation comes from the people who are my age who are persevering in the face of homelessness. Those who get an award through our scholarship program are literally students who are going to be going to college in the fall just like I am. For me, there are so many ways we can relate to each other. Honestly, the only thing that separates us is that I have had more opportunities. I was born into a family that was able to provide for me. The discussion of should I go to college or would I be able to go to college wasn’t as big of a discussion in my household as it was in theirs. They’re worried about where their next meal is going to come from or how many hours they have to work to be able to pay rent. It’s eye-opening for me and very humbling as well.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
At EEqual we have twofold programming. We have a scholarship awards program that helps pay for the tuition and fees for high school seniors or young adults experiencing homelessness who want to attain some form of post-secondary training, whether it’s a two-year, four-year, or associate’s degree or trade school or vocational school certificates. We’re following the research that shows increasing access to higher education can break the cycle of poverty. Any selected scholars also participate in our mentorship program where they work one-on-one with a college mentor on their path to higher education. This year we’ve provided about $30,000 in scholarships so far, helping 15 or 16 students. We have some really awesome success stories. We had one student last year who was in her final year and now she’s working full-time, she’s independent and is not in Section 8 housing anymore. She’s able to provide for her family and has that independence that we’re looking for all of our scholars to have.
In addition, our chapters program is less focused on direct programming and more about engaging young people. We are a youth-led organization so we get young people all across the nation to create local chapters of EEqual to work on this issue of student homelessness in their own community. That can be through volunteering, or learning about the problem and coming up with solutions that they can implement as a chapter in their community. It’s a way to give young people the platform and the opportunity to make an impact, and have that voice and leadership experience in the nonprofit sector.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’m inspired by the amazing students we support through our scholarships who are incredible and so talented. I’m so glad that they have the opportunity to use their incredible talent to do something positive for our world. How driven they inspires me. It also feels like a big responsibility; our whole team feels that we’re working for them too, we can’t let them down. This is their life so we want to be a positive influence.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to expand our scholarship program for as many students as we can and have funding through grants. This year we received more than 160 applications for our scholarships in our first year of running it. We’re expecting a lot more as word gets around about our program. We want to be able to say yes to more students because there were so many amazing people we had to turn away. Additionally, we want to be able to support more students through the entirety of their education. For the chapter’s program, we want to expand to having a chapter in every state and give many young people the opportunity to work on this issue and make an impact.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
Probably what every nonprofit says: that getting funding is hard. Raising money, especially when you’re running a scholarship program is a challenge. It’s a lot of money that you have to raise. Education in this country is not very cheap. There’s also the challenge of visibility. We want more young people to know about EEqual and to volunteer to run our chapters program.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
We really do have a chance and an opportunity to change the lives of so many people. I’m sure many nonprofits say that but literally if we look at these students who are applying to our program, at least half of them are 20 years or so old and aren’t having the same opportunity as others in the community and instead we’re taking care of them through shelters and services. We have this chance right now to support them when they’re younger and give them the chance to go to school when they have more flexibility in their lives. We as a society have a chance to change the trajectory of their lives which will eventually reduce the number of people we’re seeing on the streets. I’m not saying it’s going to be zero but significantly reduced. Are we as a society going to let something as simple as money come in the way of what incredible things could come out of this? We have a real opportunity to do something that will last, that we’ll see the effects of for many years, so we should take it.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“Man’s merit lieth in his service and virtue and not in the wealth and pageantry of his riches.” It’s from the Baha’i faith, which is a newer religion.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We’re always open to ideas. Anyone who wants to get involved, please don’t be shy – reach out. If you want to donate, head to our website and click on the donate tab. Any amount helps. And if you are or know a young person, we would love to have you in our program. Please reach out to us. Go to the chapters page on our website and get involved in a local community. We’re always looking for more young people to take part in our work.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can expand their impact. If you would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.