By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on front-line workers in hospitals, senior living centers, classrooms and parents at home. These real-life superheroes were in our communities every day putting their health at risk to improve the well-being of others.
Global Game Changers (GGC), a Kentucky nonprofit student empowerment and academic program, has been honoring these real-life superheroes for nearly 10 years through school curriculums encouraging young people to find their own inner superpower to improve the world.
Global Game Changers Gets Its Start In Kentucky
Louisville native and founder Jan Helson spent much of her career building a family-owned company into a global leader and making meaningful connections along the way.
She and her husband, Tim, developed Golden Foods & Golden Brands, a vegetable oil refinery where they produced specialty fats and oils for industrial baking. Their products were used all over the world in biscuits sold at McDonald’s, KFC, Pillsbury, Hardee’s and more, until selling the company in 2011. And their products are still being sold today.
Through her experience, Helson noticed they were undergoing extremely high turnover rates on the production line, hiring thousands of new employees over the years. She wanted to know why.
These employees often came from low-income and at-risk homes and struggled in the workforce because they lacked confidence and the ability to communicate effectively to become resilient and successful employees.
Through her own research, she discovered valuable, sought-after skills like leadership, collaboration and empathy were not being taught in a meaningful way.
When Helson and her husband sold their company, she made teaching these skills to children of all ages and backgrounds her mission.
“I wanted to give back and make a difference in the lives of children who might lack confidence or face barriers to their success,” Helson said. “This passion motivated me to create Global Game Changers.”
The Philosophy Behind The Superpower
Helson brought together a group of educators, scientists and writers to help create the program. The concept was based around a commitment to service and helping others, which she and her husband instilled in their own children.
At a very young age, Helson’s daughter, Rachel, used her own talents to make a difference in the lives of others through her love for acting. She performed “The Rocky Horror Show” at The Kentucky Center for Performing Arts in Louisville and eventually went on to perform on Broadway in New York City donating all of the funds to support breast cancer awareness.
MY TALENT + MY HEART = MY SUPERPOWER® became the social-emotional framework for the program, helping children develop self-awareness, confidence and interpersonal skills.
Global Game Changers Today
With the support from her daughter and niece Anne Walker, who now helps Helson manage the organization, they were able to create an engaging in-school and after-school academic program.
Another integral part of the program’s growth and impact has been the Novak Family Foundation, who are lead sponsors of GGC. They provided a $1 million grant making all curriculum available through an Online Educator Portal at no cost to educators.
GGC now serves hundreds of elementary schools nationwide and has partnerships with the YMCA, United Way, Feeding America, AmeriCorps and the University of Louisville College of Education.
The goal is simple—to empower as many children as possible with the tools needed to make the world a better place and ignite good.
Free September 11th Curriculum
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In honor of the bravery, sacrifice and strength shown by first responders, families and civilians, the GGC team has created a custom curriculum to help students remember and reflect on those who sacrificed their lives.
“We want them to know that even in times of adversity, that they can persevere,” Helson said. “They can be resilient; that they have the core competencies to do that. And that there is hope for better in the future.”
The free curriculum includes interviews with first responders on the scene in New York City and Washington D.C., interactive videos, activity books and tours of the memorials across the country to anyone interested.
To access the 9/11 lessons, visit 911lesson.org. To learn more about the GGC program, visit globalgamechangers.org.